WASHINGTON -- Commanders must be a part of any solution to the crisis of sexual assault in the military, service leaders told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

Commanders are responsible not only for the health and welfare of those in their commands, but also for good order and discipline, they emphasized.

Some legislative proposals before Congress would take away commanders' responsibilities under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for sexual assault crimes.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the service chiefs agreed that commanders have an important role to play in changing the culture that allows sexual assaults in the military.

"As we consider further reforms, the role of the commander should remain central," he said. "Our goal should be to hold commanders more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct the crisis."

Each commander,no matter the service, has the responsibility to preserve order and discipline, Dempsey told the senators. This is essential to bringing about change.

"(Commanders) punish criminals and they protect victims when and where no other jurisdiction is capable of doing so, or lawfully able to do so," he said. "Commanders are accountable for all that goes on in a unit, and ultimately, they are responsible for the success of the missions assigned to them."

Commanders are responsible for setting command climates, and in that role are responsible for changing the culture, the military leaders said.

"Commanders and leaders of every rank must earn that trust and therefore engender trust in their units," Dempsey said. "Most do. Most do not allow unit cohesion to mask an undercurrent of betrayal. Most rise to the challenge of leadership every day, even under the most demanding, physical and moral circumstances."

The service chiefs were equally adamant that commanders must be part of the solution.

"If I believed that removing commanders from their central role of responsibility in addressing sexual assault would solve the crimes within our ranks, I would be your strongest proponent," Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said.

"But … making commanders less responsible and less accountable will not work," he said. "It will undermine the readiness of the force. It will inhibit our commanders' ability to shape the climate and discipline of our units, and most importantly, it will hamper the timely delivery of justice to the very people we wish to help: the victims and survivors of these horrific crimes."

Eliminating sexual assault requires the involvement of leaders and commanders, the chief of naval operations told the senators.

"It is assuredly a leadership issue and fundamentally embedded in what we call the 'charge of command,'" said Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert. "The commanding officer is responsible and accountable for everything that happens in his or her ship, squadron or unit."

Page last updated Thu June 6th, 2013 at 00:00