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Parnell Ignored Guard Rape for Years

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“This culture of mistrust and failed leadership in the Guard ends now,” according to Gov. Sean Parnell, the failed commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard for the last four years.

Unfortunately, if you’ve been paying attention, you know there isn’t the slightest chance that Parnell will hold himself accountable for ignoring years of guardsmen pleading for his help — in some cases with soldier rape victims and their advocates almost literally banging on the door of his office.

Instead he’s in weasel overdrive in an attempt to escape responsibility for his inaction and blatant lack of concern.

You should already know about this story, but in case you haven’t been following the implosion of the Alaska National Guard, here’s a recap.

In November 2010, a handful of courageous mid-level Guard officers risked their careers by jumping the chain of command to tell the governor directly that female soldiers were being sexually assaulted by other Guard members and that not only were the assaults not investigated, they were actually covered up by senior officers.

The officers assumed that Gov. Choose Respect wouldn’t sit still for the raping of Alaska soldiers. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Parnell did next to nothing. He asked the Guard’s senior officer, Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, to handle it. That was the equivalent of casually asking the fox to see what was happening at the hen house. Katkus reported back that everything was fine, nothing to see.

Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 30, 2010, several Air National Guardsmen sent a letter to the governor urging him to force “the resignation of Major Gen. Thomas Katkus because of ‘multiple acts of moral turpitude’ he had allowed to run rampant, including drug trafficking, sexual assaults/rape, illegal use of aircraft.”

Crickets. No investigation, no followup. Meanwhile there were female soldiers on suicide
watch, further traumatized by the lack of a response to their plight. Records requests show their was no contact of the Attorney General, Dan Sullivan, about the information brought to the governor. There was no investigation even though the commissioner’s website
states, “(Dan Sullivan’s) primary focus as Attorney General was to end Alaska’s epidemic levels of sexual assault and domestic violence.”

Years passed. Misconduct of all kinds continued.

In October 2013, Sean Cockerham, a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, wrote a story based on the same officers who had gone to the governor three years earlier. His story included the accounts of two of the rape victims who agreed, out of desperation, to have their stories published, with their names included. Surely, they thought, a story in the newspaper would prompt official action.

They were wrong. The governor did nothing. He claimed he didn’t have enough “specific information” to act. Neither of the women was ever sought out by the governor’s office — though one of them had personally gone to his office twice. Instead of getting help, a member of the governor’s staff asked the raped soldier why she didn’t like Gen. Katkus, and what she thought of the governor.

In April 2014, I wrote a column telling the story of the three Guard chaplains who had tried repeatedly to get the governor to pay attention, and ended up facing retaliation from senior officers. After the column appeared, I was contacted by dozens of guardsmen, including a shocking number of rape victims. I was told there were rumors of official action — from Washington.

Parnell, meanwhile, doubled down on his support for Katkus.

Parnell later justified his lack of action by saying, “Even without detail specific enough to pinpoint a victim willing to report, nor a perpetrator, we made sure through the Adjutant General that Guard members had a safe route to report sexual misconduct, and that their allegations would be taken seriously and investigated to conclusion, including any appropriate penalties.”

He said this AFTER the names of two rape victims had appeared on the front page of the state’s largest newspaper.

And who was the adjutant general Parnell was so sure would ensure the safety and proper treatment of victims, and the prosecution of perpetrators? Thomas Katkus, the man he had been warned about for years.

Could there be a more clueless, ineffectual chief executive than Sean Parnell? And to think that people’s mental health, safety and and careers were hanging on his judgment…

“Gen. Katkus has been very forthright… General Katkus has been very proactive,” Parnell told a public radio reporter when he finally called for the federal government to investigate the Alaska Guard.

And what did those federal investigators find? Exactly what Alaska Guardsmen had been telling the governor for years.

So, at long last, Katkus was forced to resign and a mountain of dirty laundry has been revealed.

And in an act of breath-taking hypocrisy, Parnell now claims, “I take the findings very seriously because I care deeply about our Guard members and their ability to get help and justice.”

Don’t you believe it. Consider the case of McHugh Pierre, the governor’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

On Dec. 6, 2013, Pierre summoned Lt. Col. Jane Wawersik, the Alaska Guard’s sexual assault investigator, to his office on JBER. He wanted to know if she had been leaking information about sexual assaults to a legislator. She hadn’t, and she told him so.

On Dec. 9, Pierre summoned two of the three chaplains who had three years earlier personally told Parnell about sexual assaults. After interrogating them about which lawmakers they had talked to, Pierre tried to get them to sign a letter promising they wouldn’t talk to any legislator in the future. Both declined. Pierre wouldn’t let them take a copy of the letter with them.

Is Pierre still working for Parnell? Was Pierre’s effort to intimidate those risking their careers to protect victims consistent with the governor’s newfound determination to “accept nothing less than a command structure that leads Guard members to operational success in the field, and provides an even-handed, fair, and just internal structure.”

In my pursuit of this story, I’ve talked with maybe a hundred Guard members. Their bravery and endurance through years of a corrupt command and callously uninterested governor deserves our respect and admiration. Only their desire to serve — and their faith that somehow justice would prevail has kept them in uniform.

This week, after watching Parnell trying to deflect attention from his own culpability, a senior officer sent me this:

“I watched the press conference with Parnell. It was disgusting. I felt bad for the victims. The leadership let down the soldiers, rape victims, their families and the state of Alaska. How can Parnell excuse that. He failed us. It’s manufactured outrage on his part. Completely inexcusable. The governor could have stopped this five years ago. He failed the most vulnerable people in this whole equation — the victims.”

The report on the Alaska Guard called for it to shift “the culture around sexual assault from one of acceptance to one of accountability.” Katkus has been held accountable by Parnell. What I want to know is: Will anyone hold Sean Parnell accountable?

A version of this article is cross-posted at The Alaska Dispatch News.

Comments

comments

Comments
4 Responses to “Parnell Ignored Guard Rape for Years”
  1. Jag27 says:

    Vote Respect: Walker-Mallott

    Parnell wouldn’t have done anything had it not been for the Walker-Mallott merging on the ballot. Let us see how much he gets done in the next two months and tell us how everything just took time to do.

  2. Intel says:

    Governor Frank Murkowski ordered a child-rape investigation before leaving office in 2006…I guess the State waits for rapist to ‘die of old age’ before prosecutions…so is a child a ‘disgruntled ex-partner’ Sean?

  3. mike from iowa says:

    Can’t imagine the physical and psychological horror a rape victim goes through,but maybe Parnell and those of his ilk need to go through it to sympathize with girls and women who have been raped. I’m fairly certain the spooks at CIA have the protocol down pat and could assist in enlightening the Parnell’s of the world. Money,fame and fortune don’t insulate one from sexual assaults. I doubt being a perceived bigwig in Wingnut politics does either.

  4. Zyxomma says:

    It’s unlikely that Parnell will ever have to answer for his inaction, when it would have counted. It’s up to Alaskans to vote him out of office, and I sincerely hope that happens.

    I’m a rape survivor (I reject the word victim). It was the most horrible thing that ever happened to me. I can hardly imagine how much worse it would have been had I had to see my attackers every day, AT WORK. I’m glad my junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, has made military sexual assault one of her key issues, although the legislation she wanted to pass (civilian, rather than military, prosecution) failed.