Gov. Parnell's inaction on National Guard assaults no way to 'choose respect'

More than four years ago, Alaska National Guard chaplains went directly to Gov. Sean Parnell to describe a culture of abuse and substantial deficiencies in the guard chain of command. Shortly thereafter, victims of sexual assaults began coming forward, some of them speaking directly with the governor's staff. By 2013, news outlets made the claims public and there was a growing crescendo of calls for the governor to take action on the systematic leadership failures occurring within the guard command structure.

It is important to note the harm caused by these failures. Members of Alaska's guard units were reporting numerous cases of sexual assault and rape. They were not accorded fitting justice from their chain of command. Investigations were conducted internally and criminal charges -- justice for the victims -- were never levied. To be clear, we should not have needed a federal investigation in Alaska. We need a responsive commander in chief who puts the safety of troops over the political security of his appointees.

Instead of taking decisive action, the governor defended his political appointee, negating justice for many victims and undermining the morale of the guard. Last week, the summary and findings of a report completed by the guard's Bureau Office of Complex Investigations were released by the governor. The full report, including background information and documents, has not been made public.

Upon releasing the summarized report, the governor announced the resignation of Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus, head of Alaska's guard. However, the report pointed out other unnamed state employees complicit in illegal or unethical behavior. To ensure a safe and responsive workplace at the guard, those employees should be held accountable and relieved of their duties immediately. Anyone in the governor's office complicit with the inaction and cover-ups should likewise be removed.

The report makes a number of other unsettling conclusions. The guard lacks simple working agreements with local law enforcement agencies and methods to track reporting and protect victims' confidentiality. Their processes, from start to finish, are inadequate.

Reducing domestic violence and sexual assault in Alaska is imperative. The governor has spent significant time, energy, and state resources to promote his "Choose Respect" campaign, but as the OCI report details, in the case of the guard, the governor failed to lead and therefore failed to "choose respect." Victims, and ultimately all guard members, need to be able to trust their chain of command. That starts with the governor. To carry out their mission effectively, guard members need a safe working environment. They should trust their leaders to take the right and moral course of action. Unfortunately, both of those necessities are absent.

Like many Alaskans, we are deeply disturbed by the inadequate response from the governor. If the governor desires real change, he should release the full OCI report immediately, not just the summary and findings. This will provide the public with the necessary details behind the report's conclusions, so we know exactly who to hold accountable and why.


The governor failed to meet his own principle of "choose respect." Guard victims deserve better. Alaskans deserve better. No excuses.

Alaska Senate Minority Leader Hollis French represents West Anchorage, and Sen. Berta Gardner represents Spenard and Midtown.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Hollis French

Hollis French represented West Anchorage in the Alaska Senate from 2002-2014.

Berta Gardner

Berta Gardner represents Anchorage’s House District 24 (Midtown Anchorage and Taku) in the Alaska House of Representatives. Rep. Gardner sits on the House committees for House Resources, Community and Regional Affairs, Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, and Ethics. As a Democrat, she also serves the 26th Alaska Legislature as House Minority Whip.