Investigators Find No Cover-up at Alaska National Guard

An Army Inspector General found no fault with how the Alaska National Guard handled reports of sexual assault and harassment.  At least, that’s how the Inspector General’s office for the Defense Department explained it in a letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Murkowski says she asked for the investigation last year after hearing troubling reports from two Guard chaplains. She says she won’t comment until she gets a chance to see the IG report for herself.

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The one-page letter to Murkowski  says the Army Inspector General’s investigation ended last month. Its focus was whether the Alaska Guard allowed a management climate that wasn’t conducive to reporting sexual assaults, and whether officials tried to cover up any accusations.  The letter to Murkowski says the Army IG didn’t find evidence of a cover-up.  It also says Guard commanders didn’t identify any concerns about the reporting of sexual assaults during “climate sensing sessions” with the troops.

The letter confirms some of the broad outlines of the case. It says the Guard’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator received 11 allegations of sexual assault since 2012. They were forwarded to civilian police, but only two were substantiated, and none were prosecuted in court. The letter from the Pentagon IG seems to clear the top officer of the Alaska Guard, Thomas Katkus. It says he delivered administrative punishment on the only two cases he could, by discharging one of the accused from Guard service and initiating the departure of another. Another DoD oversight branch, the Directorate for Investigations of Senior Officials, reviewed the Army IG report and concurred, the letter says.

Major Candis Olmstead, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Guard, says nine alleged sexual assaults by Guardsmen have been reported to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator since 2009. She doesn’t know why the letter mentions 11 cases just since 2012. She says, though, the response coordinator takes reports from Guard victims regardless of whether the person they accuse was in or out of the Guard.

One more investigation into the Alaska National Guard is still underway. It’s by the Office of Complex Investigations, part of the National Guard Bureau.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz