Gov. Sean Parnell is reviewing the awarding of a high-level Alaska National Guard honor to a guardsman embroiled in the toxic culture of harassment and misconduct that has plagued the guard for years.
Col. Tim DeHaas is a former Army Guard chief of staff and served under Gen. Thomas Katkus, who would later rise to the state's top guard position, adjutant general.
Katkus departed amid allegations made public in September of favoritism and other leadership failings in the Alaska National Guard. DeHaas received the Alaska National Guard Legion of Merit award with Parnell's approval in 2011 upon his retirement.
Prompted by the outcry of a trio of veterans calling themselves Veterans for Accountability, Parnell said Wednesday he is closely reviewing the matter surrounding DeHaas' award.
The group, which met with reporters earlier Wednesday, demanded Parnell admit that he erred by signing off on the award for DeHaas.
They say the governor should have known DeHaas did not deserve the Legion of Merit medal in 2011, as military investigators had previously substantiated that he violated federal ethical standards for several years, including by misusing helicopters and other vehicles.
And at least one whistle-blower – Lt. Col. Ken Blaylock – has said he sent a letter to the governor in 2010 detailing growing concerns about DeHaas.
Veterans for Accountability, Blaylock and others have said DeHaas was the subject of numerous complaints of misconduct by other officers before his retirement, which was announced in the guard's Warriors fall 2011 publication.
Numerous efforts to reach DeHaas by phone and email on Wednesday were unsuccessful. DeHaas apparently spoke with an APRN reporter, according to a report from Alaska Public Media saying DeHaas denied all the allegations.
Asked how the governor now feels about the award going to DeHaas, Parnell's press secretary, Sharon Leighow, said in an email that the governor's office "agrees with the group's concerns" and "is reviewing the matter carefully."
The request for the Legion of Merit medal was made by Katkus in 2011 "before the governor called for the Office of Complex Investigations to conduct an assessment into allegations of misconduct in the Alaska National Guard," Leighow said.
Parnell made that request this past February, more than three years after it appears reports of DeHaas' alleged misconduct starting coming into Parnell's office and the offices of military investigators.
The adjutant general's office routinely drafts and asks the governor to sign Legion of Merit awards for the retirement of senior officers, said Leighow.
The award is not routinely given to retiring staff, said Lt. Col. Bruce Dougherty with Veterans for Accountability. Dougherty said he retired from the Alaska Air National Guard four years ago and did not receive it.
"It only passes muster with the highest-ranking of people, generally speaking, such as colonel and above," Dougherty said.
Dougherty recently formed the group with Shaina Kilcoyne, a former member of the National Guard in Wisconsin who did not serve in the Alaska National Guard, and Sgt. Kevin McGee, a Vietnam-era U.S. Army veteran who said he was also a member of the Alaska Army National Guard until about 15 years ago. McGee is first vice president for the NAACP in Anchorage.
Members of the group said none of them worked with DeHaas or experienced the misconduct detailed in the report issued last month by the National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations. The report brought new weight to years of allegations about sexual and other misconduct, alleged fraud and favoritism in the Alaska National Guard.
Since the report's release, two officials have resigned at the request of the governor, including Katkus and McHugh Pierre, civilian deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Parnell has promised more guard officials will be fired.
At the press conference with reporters Wednesday, the veterans said they believe they have a duty to call attention to the issue and demand the governor release details about the complaints his office received. They said they have no political motivation and no connection to Democrats, gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker or other groups that might try to tar a Republican governor up for re-election early next month.
Parnell has denied requests for those details filed under the Alaska's public records law, citing, among other things, that victims have a right to privacy. The veterans group said it also submitted an open-records request and is waiting for a response from the governor's office.
Dougherty said the veterans want an admission from the governor that it was an error to award the Legion of Merit to DeHaas because DeHaas "perpetrated a culture of fraud and sexual assault" and "defrauded taxpayers with impunity."
"It's clear the governor's staff and other guard members were intimately involved and aware of the scandal and they too should too be held accountable," Dougherty said.
The veterans noted some of the allegations made against DeHaas before his retirement, which are also contained in two letters crafted by anonymous authors that were said to have been sent to the National Guard's inspector general in 2010 and 2011:
The lengthy OCI report does not specifically name DeHaas. But amid the numerous guard problems laid out in the report, in a section dedicated to ethical misconduct, it refers to an officer who was awarded the Legion of Merit at his retirement. Investigators noted that the award came after the Department of the Army Inspector General had substantiated that the officer had been involved in "violations of federal ethical standards" for several years.
The OCI report notes the officer "inappropriately" used "government vehicles for personal use, including helicopters."
The report also says:
Members of the veterans group also referred to a memorandum that Lt. Col. Ken Blaylock, who retired from the National Guard in 2012, said he sent to the governor almost four years ago, in December 2010.
By then, Blaylock said on Wednesday, he'd already visited the governor's office and staff multiple times to notify the governor about sexual assaults and victims' fear of reporting in the chain of command. The visits included bringing victims and National Guard chaplains to the governor's office, he said.