Alaskans are repulsed by the revelation of sexual assaults, fraud, corruption, coercion and cover-ups in our National Guard. As a recently (2012) retired active duty Army officer and a graduate of one of the first classes at West Point to include women, I witnessed many instances of sexual harassment over my 34 years in uniform, and also isolated incidents of other, more scurrilous behavior. Every time, however, proactive leaders and an ingrained climate of mutual trust and respect between seniors and subordinates limited the isolated incidents from spreading or escalating. Units stutter-stepped, then regained their cadence. But I have never seen a situation where malfeasance is so pervasive at the senior leader level that an outside agency must be dispatched to perform an exorcism of sorts, to clean the unit from the top down and repair its soul.
This, unfortunately, describes the current situation with our National Guard. The depth and breadth of wrongdoing and the cancerous culture that allowed it are far beyond anything the most jaded of us "old soldiers" could have imagined. As more details of immoral and illegal behavior come to light, it is easy to get caught in the headlights and fixated on the appalling acts themselves. Instead, we must resolve to fix the system so this never happens again. To that end, I offer this six-point plan of action.
1. Immediately hold legislative hearings -- with witnesses under oath -- to independently investigate malfeasance in the Guard. The House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs has an oversight responsibility and the capacity to be doing this now. Whether their inaction to date is due to inattention or is politically motivated (i.e., don't look for what you don't want to find), it is inexcusable and, frankly, mind-boggling. Upon receipt of my open records request more than 12 days ago, the state has not offered one piece of evidence that Gabrielle LeDoux, co-chair of the committee and representative of Elmendorf and veteran-heavy Muldoon, has taken any action to address our Guard catastrophe. I was pleased to learn that Sen. Lesil McGuire has individually stepped forward to propose hearings. Fixing the Guard problems that have been allowed to fester must be a bipartisan, Alaskans-first endeavor.
2. Appoint an independent special prosecutor to address criminal actions not currently enforceable by the Guard's antiquated, ineffective state version of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. State Guard forces do not fall under the federal UCMJ that our active duty service members and veterans are familiar with. Alaska has been operating under a state UCMJ drawn up pre-statehood. Alaska Statute 26.05: Military Code of Alaska is cumbersome and toothless. For example, Guard commanders have no option to refer offenders for court-martial or non-judicial punishment. Instead, they can only administratively remove someone from service. McGuire's intent to call for a special prosecutor is spot on, and I applaud her for wanting to take this necessary step toward serving justice.
3. The Legislature must create a viable UCMJ. The Guard must advise and guide but the state's Military Code is a state statute. This is the province of our Legislature. The heavy lifting for creating a meaningful and effective code is done in committee. This would appropriately be accomplished by the House Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs. But again, nothing is happening on that front.
4. Separate the adjutant general (TAG) position from the commissioner, DMVA position. Tom Katkus and his predecessors were dual-hatted as the TAG and commissioner. As has been recently demonstrated, absolute power indeed has the capability to corrupt absolutely. A number of other states have separated the two positions, and this has worked well. There are two plausible scenarios, each with its own advantages and drawbacks: TAG and commissioner are co-equal positions, or the TAG is subordinate to the commissioner, similar to the relationship at the federal level.
5. Fill the existing military legislative liaison position to the Alaska Legislature. The Guard has a liaison billet that has not been filled for many years, if ever. The position should immediately be filled by a capable mid- to senior-level officer who at a minimum has completed the appropriate Intermediate Level Education (ILE), and preferably is a Senior Service College graduate. The selectee must be dedicated to the position, not multi-hatted, and have the subject matter expertise to effectively assist the Legislature along with the dexterity required to negotiate and translate both military and political culture.
6. The commander-in-chief (our governor) must demand, receive and embrace unfettered access to Guard issues and take a personal and active part in restoring a culture of transparency. TAG and deputy commissioner have been removed, as others surely should be in the weeks ahead. The Guard is reeling. Despite the presence of the fix-it team from Outside, the Guard needs its commander-in-chief present in the JBER Armory and units around the state. He must offer to meet personally with the sexual assault victims and all members of the Guard family, listening to them, answering their questions and apologizing when necessary. To be effective, meetings must be small groups and be limited to same-rank peers. A massive "town hall" style meeting with privates through senior officers in the same room – which the governor held yesterday – doesn't cut it. In an organization where fear of intimidation and reprisal is rampant, who believes lower ranking soldiers would speak up with sergeants major and officers present? In addition to appearing personally, the governor should have a senior staff member available to any Guard member who wishes to have a confidential discussion outside the chain of command and without fear of disclosure. Without the commander-in-chief's full commitment to having these difficult discussions, all other gestures of curing the command culture and rebuilding organizational trust and confidence will be insufficient.
If elected to the state House on Nov. 4, I am ready to go to work to execute this or a commensurate plan to heal our National Guard. Our Legislature thus far has failed to assist our Guardsmen and Guardswomen in the manner that only they can. We all deserve better.
Col. (Ret.) Laurie Hummel is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom and a Democratic candidate for State House in District 15.