WASHINGTON -- Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has called in a federal investigation of sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard, including an inquiry into how the guard's commanders handled reports of rape and other offenses.
Parnell said the federal National Guard Bureau agreed Wednesday to investigate the Alaska National Guard at his request.
The governor oversees the Alaska National Guard and appointed its commander, Maj. Gen. Tom Katkus. Parnell's letter requesting the federal investigation said he wants it to include a look at how Katkus and his aides have handled sexual misconduct allegations within the ranks.
"I am extremely proud of our Alaska National Guard members and their professionalism in carrying out their duties. However, I remain deeply concerned by reports of sexual assaults and other behavior creating a hostile environment and culture within portions of the Alaska National Guard," Parnell wrote the federal National Guard bureau.
Parnell wrote in the letter that he recently learned information compelling him to seek an outside look at the Alaska National Guard's training, reporting, investigations and case handling regarding sexual misconduct issues.
Parnell spokeswoman Sharon Leighow declined to say what new information had prompted the governor to take this step.
Leighow said the governor still has "full confidence in General Katkus."
Members of the Alaska National Guard, including two senior chaplains, told McClatchy Newspapers last year that sexual assault victims do not trust commanders to help them because of a history of mishandled complaints. They described a serious sexual assault and harassment problem and said the Parnell administration was told of the problems as far back as 2010.
The Alaska National Guard subsequently revealed that a dozen soldiers face administrative charges of sexual misconduct, including four sexual assault cases. Several allegations center on members of the recruiting and retention unit in the Alaska Army National Guard, headquartered at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
Parnell is asking the federal National Guard Bureau to investigate open and closed cases of sexual assault and fraud in the Alaska National Guard. Parnell's office did not provide details of the fraud allegations that he wants probed.
Parnell also wants the federal National Guard Bureau to review sexual assault cases that the Alaska National Guard "referred to civilian law enforcement who declined to investigate."
Parnell said he wants a detailed report from the National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations. He told the federal bureau that all guard units and the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs would cooperate.
Sean Cockerham is a reporter in McClatchy's Washington bureau.Email: email@example.com ; Twitter: @seancockerham.
Parnell letter asking for inquiry into sexual assaults in Alaska National Guard 
By SEAN COCKERHAM
Daily News Washington bureau