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New National Guard records release reveals 'harsh' email exchange of legislator

As an appointed official in Gov. Sean Parnell's office in 2012 and 2013, Nancy Dahlstrom came to distrust the practice there of sharing complaints about the Alaska National Guard with the guard's chief official, an appointee of Parnell.

But in 2009, when she was a conservative Republican House member representing Eagle River and Anchorage's military bases, she was a staunch defender of the status quo, sending a pointed email to a whistleblower complaining about several top officers, including Thomas Katkus, the general Parnell was about to name as guard commander.

"Your statements are reckless and have the potential to cause irreparable damage to these fine officers," Dahlstrom said in an email dated Aug. 25, 2009, to Debra Blaylock, a just-retired lieutenant colonel in the guard. "I take great offense to your statement that it is a 'good old boy' network with corrupt leadership. I believe the current leaders are outstanding and have made tremendous advancements in improving the overall morale, day-to-day operations, direction, and relevancy of the organization. I have never seen it function better. As a citizen of Alaska, I am truly proud to call them my National Guard."

Read the National Guard emails released by the state

Dahlstrom concluded her email with even stronger language: "There is no room for mean spirited, unsubstantiated, and malicious correspondence targeted towards the undermining and destruction of the excellent reputation and character of Alaska's leadership."

Parnell fired Katkus in September after a Pentagon report said that under Katkus' leadership, the Alaska National Guard was suffering low morale and problems with sexual misconduct, fraud and misappropriation.

Dahlstrom's email conversation with Blaylock was contained in hundreds of pages of documents released since Friday by the governor's office in response to a media lawsuit seeking public records in the Alaska National Guard leadership and sexual misconduct scandal.

A batch of 500 pages came out Sunday and a like number is expected Monday. While many key passages in the emails, letters and other documents from 2009 to the present were redacted before release by the Parnell administration, enough information emerged to shed some light on the period in which the scandal bubbled beneath the surface. The first news reports about misconduct in the guard were published in 2013.

Interviewed Sunday, Dahlstrom said she regrets striking such a hard tone in her 2009 email to Blaylock, a prominent whistleblower along with her husband, Kenneth Blaylock, also a retired lieutenant colonel in the guard. But Dahlstrom said her email also reflected the facts as she knew them at the time, including information from inspectors general in the Army and the National Guard that Katkus was not under investigation as Blaylock had claimed.

"Obviously in hindsight I wish I hadn't been harsh with her," Dahlstrom said Sunday. "When the IG's office tells you that there are no substantiated complaints and everything is on the up and up, I went with that. Five years later I only wish that I had had substantiated information and we could have stopped this sooner. I hate that people have been victimized."

In her 2009 email to Dahlstrom, Blaylock noted that her husband, Ken, had filed a complaint against Katkus, then the assistant adjutant general for the Army Guard -- ATAG. She asked Dahlstrom to look for more complaints before Katkus came up for confirmation in the Legislature.

"I chose to retire rather than suffer anymore of his abuse," Blaylock told Dahlstrom. "The AKARNG (Alaska Army National Guard) has truly returned to the Good Old Boy way of doing things not seen since the 1980s since Tom Katkus was chosen as ATAG."

In an interview Sunday, Blaylock said she was "shocked" when she received Dahlstrom's email.

"Being a retired lieutenant colonel, I worked for the generals -- I wasn't like a nobody. When she did that, it was a like a slap in the face, like who are you, and shame on you," Blaylock said. "I kind of backed off everything then, and Ken started taking over."

The Sunday release of documents by the Alaska Department of Law amounted to 513 pages, but nearly all of it was redacted or filled with several voluminous copies of the 2010 Air Force investigation into the deadly crash of an Alaska Air Guard C-17. The Sunday document release also had email complaints that appeared in previous releases.

The Law Department released the documents under court order in a public records lawsuit brought by Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Public Media. The news organizations said the governor's office had not properly responded to requests for information in the guard scandal dating back to May.

In one of two batches of documents released Saturday, a 2011 email to Mike Nizich, Parnell's chief of staff, Katkus appears to suggest that complaints by Air Guard members were brought on by national changes in the guard mission, not problems unique to Alaska's leadership. In the email, dated Feb. 3, 2011, Katkus said adjutants general in other states were the subjects of "character assassinations" and "efforts to undermine the confidence in leadership."

"I don't know if it is coordinated or not, but it does seem to be the trend," Katkus wrote. "A lot of this stems from the significant changes that are occurring in our Air Force as missions and funding changes."

But if the Alaska Air National Guard conducted the "Return to Core Values" suggested by the National Guard Bureau in 2011, it didn't stifle the criticism in Alaska.

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