The Alaska Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion, a unit with access to high school students around the state and a budget to attend or sponsor popular outdoor events, has been, for years, a center of repeated sexual misconduct among its officers, according to investigative files.
The files describe a unit in which officers prowled the lists of new recruits for sex, routinely cheated on their wives, drank to excess, went to strip clubs, chiseled the government with their official credit cards and made a habit of making leering and demeaning comments about women, including their fellow soldiers. The files were prepared between 2010 and 2014 in a largely failed effort by a few officers to mark the leaders of the battalion with the stain of an other-than-honorable discharge.
Officers in the battalion had sex with other soldiers and civilians on the chairs and desks of their recruiting offices, in their government cars, in the woods near Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and in the RVs they brought to official events, the reports say.
The files described bullying of civilians by guard officers. Four women said that when they attended Dimond High School in Anchorage, they resisted a guard recruiter who tried to give them alcohol. One former student described what sounded like an attempt by the officer to groom her for sex. She said she had to jump from the recruiter's car when he tried to take her home, calling her father for help from a stranger's phone.
When they got too drunk to drive, officers forced enlisted soldiers to take them home from bars. One married officer assigned a sergeant to give his hotel room key to his lover and then stand guard outside the door lest he be caught. An officer abandoned three soldiers to their own devices at a Mat-Su highway pullout in winter cold while he went off snowmachining with the head of the Alaska National Guard at the time, Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus. The soldiers were promised someone would come back with food, but when the snowmachine party returned more than eight hours later, they brought back nothing to eat, leaving the soldiers to share a single prepackaged ready-to-eat Army ration.
It got so bad that four soldiers, feeling harassed by more senior officers, requested transfers from their cushy Anchorage duty for the frigid Interior of Fort Greely, where another guard unit runs the nation's missile defense program.
The investigative files, known in military jargon as AR 15-6s for the regulation that governs investigations, were among the documents requested from the governor's office and the National Guard by Alaska Dispatch News and other media and individuals. So far, those public records requests have not been fulfilled, and Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media have sued the state in an effort to get them released.
In the meantime, however, other sources have leaked material, including eight AR 15-6s, that name 10 commissioned and noncommissioned officers in the Recruiting and Retention Battalion as the subjects of investigations. The Anchorage Press first described some of those investigations last week.
Most of the leaked files only contain portions of the full investigations and don't provide the officers' defense statements or the final outcomes.
With the scandal in the National Guard breaking in the middle of the election season, and questions being raised about how the administration of Gov. Sean Parnell responded to complaints from within the guard, the documents provide new details not previously available about the flaws in parts of the guard's management over the recent past.
Unlike the regular military, the guard itself has no jurisdiction to file criminal proceedings against misbehaving soldiers, but it can seek to reduce their rank and give them "other-than-honorable" discharges, the worst status available to a departing guardsman and akin to the regular military's "dishonorable" discharge. The leaked 15-6 reports, prepared by Alaska National Guard investigators, have been used to initiate the separation proceedings.
Six of the investigations were concluded between 2010 and 2013, a period during which Parnell said he lacked information to act on allegations of sexual assaults, harassment and "toxic" leadership in the guard other than to ask Katkus to respond. The remainder took place while the Pentagon's National Guard Bureau was investigating the Alaska Guard at Parnell's request.
Fraud, adultery, inappropriate relationships and sexual assault
When the report by the Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigation was released Sept. 4, it had stunning descriptions of a climate of fear, harassment and sexual misconduct that guard leadership allowed to persist. Parnell, the civilian commander in chief of the guard, announced he had fired Katkus, the adjutant general, the day the report was released.
The OCI report singled out the Recruiting and Retention Battalion for its "high level of misconduct." But the OCI report noted that other investigations -- including the reports recently leaked to reporters -- had already uncovered many of those misdeeds.
"Several command-directed investigations initiated in 2012 found that, during the time period of 2008-2009, several noncommissioned officers within this command were engaged in misuse of government vehicles, fraud, adultery, inappropriate relationships and sexual assault," the OCI report said.
The OCI report went further than the leaked documents in saying Katkus himself bore some personal responsibility for the mess in the small battalion. After Parnell appointed him head of the guard on Nov. 9, 2009, Katkus changed the command structure, directing the head of recruiting and retention to report directly to him, "a deviation from the normal reporting chain," the report said.
The top recruiting official, Lt. Col. Joseph Lawendowski, was also Katkus' neighbor and friend, the report noted, "creating a perception that this commander was invulnerable" and that Katkus would show "potential bias and favoritism" to him.
Lawendowski himself was the subject of one of the 15-6 investigations, the leaked documents show. Begun Nov. 4, 2013, that investigation concluded in March 2014 with a recommendation that Lawendowski be removed from the guard with an "other than honorable" separation and reprimanded for dereliction of duty and misconduct. Brig. Gen. Leon Bridges, now acting adjutant general, ordered that the "other than honorable" recommendation be stricken from the final report and that Lawendowski be allowed to stay in the guard until he reached his 20-year service mark, the normal time to retire.
Lawendowski didn't respond to messages seeking comment.
Lt. Col. Charles Knowles took over from Lawendowski in June 2012 and over the last two years has been "changing personnel and how we do business," he said in an email statement Friday. He said he cleaned house, reassigning six recruiters to other duties, firing another and giving temporary duty to an eighth, "pending administrative actions."
But in the years before that, the 15-6s describe undisciplined, predatory behavior going back to the mid 2000s, when the guard was led by Craig Campbell, now head of the state-owned Alaska Aerospace Corp.
Those three recruiters were seemingly untouchable
The battalion has about 30 soldiers in nine locations, including Anchorage's Dimond Center mall and in Wasilla and Eagle River, where some of the alleged sexual misconduct took place on office furniture and in backrooms. The battalion's budget in years past was $1.5 million to $2 million, though it's down to about $1 million this year, a guard spokeswoman said.
Three alleged offenders -- Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Tallant and Master Sgts. John Nieves and Jarrett Carson -- were known in the battalion as the "Three-Headed Monster," according to one of the guard investigators, Lt. Col. Jane Wawersik.
"It was explained that those three recruiters were seemingly untouchable and that attempts to report their misconduct to Command Sgt. Maj. (Clinton) Brown or Lt. Col. Lawendowski were either ignored or resulted in negative repercussions for the recruiter reporting the misconduct," Wawersik wrote in her 15-6 investigation report on Tallant.
Tallant, now 40, had an ongoing sexual relationship with a soldier he recruited into the guard, Wawersik wrote in 2013. Both were married to others at first, the woman to a sergeant in the guard.
At the Arctic Man competition in 2008, a guard private who was celebrating her 19th birthday got throwing-up drunk. When she awoke, she was in bed in an RV with Tallant and his soldier girlfriend, and all three were having sex, the report said. The girlfriend's sergeant husband was in the RV parked in the next spot.
A sergeant described a pitiful scene of the husband drunk and in tears at a guard event the next year, sobbing that he was losing his wife to Tallant. In 2010, a private assigned to the Eagle River recruiting office saw Tallant and the girlfriend having sex in the backseat of a government car parked in front of the office, the report said.
Another sergeant said he saw Tallant in bed with a famous musher's wife at a sled-dog event in Paxson in January 2008. A second woman was in bed with them too, and Tallant invited the sergeant to join the naked trio, the report said. The sergeant declined and went elsewhere to get some sleep.
Nieves, 39, was alleged in a 2013 15-6 report, also by Wawersik, to have had several inappropriate relationships with applicants and civilian women. He was also accused of sexually assaulting a guard applicant and giving unlawful orders to subordinates.
Nieves declined to discuss the investigation with a reporter but provided Alaska Dispatch News with a written rebuttal sent to Parnell and other officials in which he described himself having a difficult childhood in foster homes and being molested by an uncle and later, suffering post-traumatic stress from combat. He denied many of the charges in the investigation and accused Wawersik of "manipulating the witnesses."
The investigation of Nieves produced a damning report. Among the allegations:
• The sister of a soldier recruited by Nieves out of East High School in Anchorage said she feared Nieves had the power to kick her brother out of the guard. She said she had an unwanted sexual encounter with him.
• A female soldier originally recruited by Nieves at East High in 2005 said Nieves began sexually harassing her after she completed her basic training in 2009.
Carson, who just turned 38, faces a hearing to remove him from the guard next week. He also was accused of having inappropriate relationships with applicants and a civilian woman.
He said Friday that he expected to be cleared at the hearing.
"I have not done anything that is considered illegal by any civil law enforcement agency," Carson said. "There are two sides to every story. What you are reading, especially in a political year, is politically driven and isn't always true."
One of the women named among the victims in the report said that in 2008, when she was applying for a guard position, Carson repeatedly asked her out. He also set up a sexually explicit ring tone for her calls on his cellphone: the song "Pony" by Ginuwine, according to the investigation, completed in June 2013 by Wawersik.
The security guard at the Mat-Su Lodge in Wasilla told Wawersik that from June 2009 to January 2010, he heard Carson tell women recruits they "won't get far in the guard if they don't do what he says."
Another recruit who was too overweight to qualify for the guard told a friend interviewed by Wawersik that Carson began working out with her, then began an affair. They had sex in his government car and the recruiting office at the Dimond Center, the investigative report says.
A former chaplain's assistant said in a sworn statement that another woman member of the guard came to him in tears, saying that Carson, her recruiter, poked and touched her, then forced her to have sex. The chaplain said he offered to help the soldier, but she declined, fearing the consequences. In an interview with Wawersik, the woman, now out of the guard, denied having an affair with Carson and denied telling anyone he sexually assaulted her.
Approaching her as if it were a game
Other investigations by different investigators reached similar conclusions. But drinking and sex weren't the only improper activities, the investigations said.
In October 2008, Tallant, Nieves, Sgt. 1st Class Donald Gum and a superior officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Brown, were driving two cars with government plates on an official trip to Fairbanks. One was a black Chevy Avalanche, the other a black Dodge Durango.
Around Cantwell, the recruiters boxed in a civilian driver and slowed to a crawl, forcing the car to stop in the middle of the SUV sandwich. When the four soldiers arrived at Pike's Landing in Fairbanks later in the day, "those recruiters were laughing and bragging about how they forced the car to stop," Wawersik quotes a witness as saying.
A witness interview in the 2013 report on Nieves gave a preview of what the Guard Bureau investigation would find more than nine months later. Unlike many of the recruits who joined the guard after high school, that witness, Sgt. 1st Class Elaine Jackson, came from the regular Army and joined the Alaska Guard in 2008. She soon felt like quitting.
"She did not agree with the excessive drinking nor the looseness in which senior noncommissioned officers interacted with the junior enlisted," the report said. "Sgt. 1st Class Jackson said she felt like each senior NCO had taken their turn approaching her as if it were a game."
The witness complained about a "severe double standard" in the recruiting unit. "Sgt. 1st Class Jackson said that if someone was not in the clique that included Master Sgt. Nieves, Sgt. 1st Class Tallant, Master Sgt. Carson and Sgt. 1st Class Gum, they were treated differently. Sgt. 1st Class Jackson said the differences included the outcome of complaints. Sgt. 1st Class Jackson said it seemed that no matter what the complaint -- inappropriate relationships, improper treatment of soldiers, excessive drinking, not showing up for work -- that those in the clique never received any (corrective) action or changed their behavior ... if anyone else needed to be out of the office for more than a couple of hours, they had to put in leave."
The investigations were also critical of a supervisor for having too close a relationship with the lower-ranked officers, especially Tallant.
Command Sgt. Maj. Brown, who was among the soldiers who boxed in the civilian car on the Parks Highway in 2008, was criticized in the 15-6s for not taking action against Tallant, even though he knew Tallant was accused of "carrying on an adulterous affair."
Command sergeant majors are the highest ranking noncommissioned officers, and they're usually responsible for ensuring the soldiers in their units have the discipline and skills to carry out their missions. But Brown failed to properly supervise the recruiters, the documents say. Then, on March 13, 2011, he was a passenger in a vehicle being driving by Tallant when it was stopped by police. Tallant was arrested for drunken driving, the 15-6 said.
The improper relationship between Brown and Tallant "resulted in the destruction of unit morale and served as the catalyst in which Tallant was allowed to use his rank and position to abuse junior soldiers as well as prey on young women," a 15-6 investigation said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing