General: “No Culture of Sexual Harassment in Wyoming Guard” | Wyoming News
Jasmine Hall Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE – Wyoming National Guard Adjutant General Gregory C. Porter reported on Monday that there is no culture within the Guard that allows for sexual harassment or assault.
He made the statement during the meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Interim Committee on Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs, which gave the Wyoming Military Department an opportunity to present its annual report on sexual harassment and abuse. sexual assault for fiscal year 2021.
Porter shared the results of the 2021 Unit’s climate survey which was conducted between February and April. There was an average attendance rate of nearly 50% among the two branches of the Guard, with the state of Wyoming and federal civilian employees not included.
The Wyoming Army National Guard has consistently responded in greater numbers than the Wyoming Air National Guard regarding mistreatment or uncomfortable situations.
About 21.5% of soldiers said someone in the unit had told sex jokes that made them feel uncomfortable or upset, while 13.5% of airmen said yes. And 10% of the Army Guard said someone in their unit made sexual comments about their appearance or body, or showed them sexually explicit material about them. About 3% of airmen said they had experienced this type of situation.
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The more similar result of the two branches came from the question of being abused, ignored, excluded or insulted because of their gender. Almost 6.5% of soldiers said they were, and 5.7% of airmen agreed.
Finally, the most extreme experience to report, that is, if someone in the unit intentionally touched them in an unwanted manner, had the lowest number of positive responses – 2.8% for the army guard and 1% for the air guard.
Porter’s report to the committee follows allegations of non-investigation of complaints, failure to resolve issues of discrimination and cases of retaliation when members of the Guard confronted military leaders over problematic behavior.
“I don’t think the military department has a system problem with sexual assault or sexual harassment,” Porter told the committee. “I believe we have some bad individual players and potentially some units where we need to make improvements in order to make ourselves the organization we need to be.”
But the veterans of the Guard, who came forward as whistleblowers earlier this year in an article produced by WyoFile.com, says it is not.
Not only do some believe there is a toxic environment and catalysts for abuse within the Wyoming National Guard, but they also said senior officers were working to cover up actions and mismanagement of reports. .
Porter said he couldn’t respond directly to statements made by women due to confidentiality acts, but the Wyoming Military Department does not condone sexual assault, abuse or discrimination at any level. The reports are being fully investigated and he said he was not aware of any retaliatory acts.
He also said whistleblowers can believe, at least to some extent, that what they are saying is the truth. But he said he’s come to understand that they only see a quarter or a third of the full story.
Marilyn Burden, one of the whistleblowers, disagrees. And now she is publicly seeking protections and solutions through legislation.
She spoke to the transport committee on Monday and made a list of recommendations for state lawmakers while listening to her testimony.
Burden said she wanted changes to be made to the state’s military code that would provide a series of checks and balances to prevent future misconduct. She said the agency has been left to “watch itself” and that there is no recourse outside the chain of command.
“There is no liability,” Burden said.
She said she had witnessed allegations of prejudicial behavior, discrimination, harassment and retaliation during the 17 years she served in the Wyoming Air National Guard as an Equal Opportunity Specialist and alternative coordinator of sexual responses.
She said even her own complaint never led to an investigation.
After seeing any form of accountability, she was transferred to the Colorado Air Reserve in 2018. She retired in mid-November of this year, and now she is leading the fight for action with the support of other whistleblowers from Wyoming.
“To let the Legislature know and to be willing to take corrective action after being ignored for almost two decades is absolutely amazing,” she said.
The list of requests she made to senators and committee representatives was long, but she considers the first to be the most important.
In the Wyoming military code, there is no process similar to section 138 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
It states: “Any member of the armed forces who considers himself aggrieved by his commander and who, upon request duly addressed to this commander, is refused compensation, may complain to any senior officer, who will forward the complaint to the officer in charge. the general jurisdiction of the court martial over the officer against whom it is made.
Once the court martial officer has reviewed the complaint, he or she must take appropriate action to rectify the situation.
Burden wants Section 138, or some form of it, to be enshrined in state law by the legislature, to create a means of appealing complaints and working their way up the chain of command.
She also wants a process when a member of the Guard feels aggrieved by the adjutant general, as he currently only responds to the governor, who is the commander-in-chief under state authority.
Other recommendations included limitations on the terms of generals, as well as a requirement for retired members of the armed forces to take a 180-day break before returning to a Title 5 post or governor appointment. She said this would allow the development of new generations of leaders.
“Integrity, character and morality cannot be legislated,” she said. “All that can be done is limit how long people are in power. “
Investigations are also a priority for Burden, including short-term and long-term reviews. She wants the Wyoming Military Department to be investigated by an outside body, with the results and final report submitted to the Joint Interim Committee on Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs as soon as possible.
She also recommended the creation of an Oversight Review Committee, made up of members outside the Guard, to review complaints and inappropriate non-disclosure agreements, possibly on a quarterly basis.
“What I ask you to consider today is whether you will protect women and children from violent crime and excessive retaliation as a way to cover up ineffective and toxic leadership, or whether you will be complicit in future crimes and support and stand up for leadership, ”she told lawmakers.
A Wyoming National Guard work environment report is already done every two years, and was presented at Monday’s meeting. Governor Mark Gordon also received the report separately from the committee and said he finds it as an example of the work the Guard does to be open and look for ways to improve.
A separate external assessment was also conducted this year by the South Dakota National Guard, which found that 24% of women and 21% of men in the Wyoming Guard did not trust their top leader.
But whistleblowers want a deeper dive.
And after years of distrust of the system, some said they questioned the numbers provided by the military department.
Rachel Bennett, a retired Guardian who went to court after suffering retaliation for sharing concerns about sexual harassment and assault, said she believed the results were flawed.
“They were allowed to meet again and come up with their own actions,” she said.
Porter said the poll numbers were not indicative of a systemic problem.
But Bennett said with only half of the Guard members responding to the survey and the possible fear of a reprimand for their responses, there could be higher percentages.
With lawmakers hearing such concerns on Monday, the Wyoming custody will likely be the subject of close scrutiny in future committee meetings.
Porter said he had not witnessed the behavior referred to by whistleblowers, but saw cause for concern in some areas of the investigation.
“We will take action against anyone who clings to this, and we will hold those people accountable, regardless of rank, position to prevent this from happening,” he said. “Because that’s what is expected of us, and that’s what we have to do. “