National Guard leadership slammed by lawmakers over sex assault lawsuits

When a West Virginia National Guard lieutenant colonel reported her rape at the hands of a senior officer years after the attack, she faced retaliation from others in her state, recounted Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., during a hearing on Wednesday. on sexual assault in the National Guard.

The lieutenant colonel’s only recourse was civil law enforcement, where prosecutors faced issues related to the expiration of the statute of limitations. She tried to get help from Army investigators, but their hands were tied because she was under orders from her governor, not the Pentagon, at the time of the attack.

But in a sign of the Guard’s limited oversight of sexual assaults within its ranks, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau, told lawmakers during the House Armed Services Committee subcommittee hearing. when questioned about the case he didn’t know if the woman’s alleged attacker is still serving in the military.

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Reports of sexual assaults in the Guard have skyrocketed over the past decade, with 188 alleged incidents while on state duty in 2010 and 634 in 2020, according to Department of Defense data. While some experts point out that the treatment of women in the military has been taken more seriously in recent years, support that could play a role in the rise in reports of attacks, the data paints a damning picture of the Guard .

Guardsmen have dueling obligations to the President and the Governors of the states they serve. Troops spend most of their time under state orders, with Title 10 Federal Orders – when governors relinquish control of their forces, usually serving as a mechanism to send troops overseas. The US government provides $26 billion a year to fund National Guard troops in states across the country, but that money grants only limited authority to Pentagon officials.

The West Virginia Guard Lt. Col. was identified during the hearing, but Military.com does not because the publication has a policy of not publishing the names of sexual assault survivors without their consent. The officer was under state orders when she was attacked, meaning the incident was outside the jurisdiction of Army investigators.

Unless a guard is working on federal orders, a fairly rare situation in most guard careers, the National Guard Bureau and the Pentagon are virtually powerless, lawmakers fear.

While on state orders, where all matters ultimately rest with the governors, Guard units have little oversight. In practice, most decisions are ultimately made by the states’ adjutant generals, the senior officers of their states, giving these commanders a broad power that does not exist in any other part of the military. In the case of the lieutenant colonel, if the state decides not to punish the alleged abusers, there are currently not many options.

“The National Guard can no longer hide behind its unique status,” Speier said when asked about the Guard’s efforts to combat sexual assault.

Lawmakers have challenged the Guard’s seemingly confusing bureaucracy and its unclear authority to take action against soldiers who commit crimes within the ranks. Hokanson told lawmakers he thinks he has everything he needs to work with states on sexual assault issues, but he didn’t offer any details on what tangible authorities he has, prompting speculation. concerns among members of the House.

“I understand that your authority is one of encouragement, subtly hoping [states] will do the right thing,” Speier said. “But apart from giving them money, we have no hook to get them to do what they need to do. When do we freeze the money? We have no control, no authority to protect these National Guard service members if the state chooses not to.”

Confusion over what federal authority the Pentagon or the National Guard Bureau can flex has resulted in lawsuits from Texas and Oklahoma against the Biden administration over COVID-19 vaccine mandates before the date June 2022 deadline, ordered by the Department of Defense, for troops to be vaccinated. Oklahoma’s case has been thrown out of court, and top leaders in Texas are encouraging their troops to get vaccinated despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s lawsuit, according to a recording of a top-level call obtained by Military.com.

“The [ability for the] The National Guard to exercise control over the state in a non-federated status is a matter of ongoing debate,” Brigadier General Charles Walker, director of the Guard’s Office of Complex Investigations, said during the hearing. “It is the subject of a real dispute. as to what National Guard authorities are.”

— Steve Beynon can be contacted at [email protected]om. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.

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