WASHINGTON — The National Guard is instituting changes to better combat sexual assault and harassment in the ranks, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson told the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee yesterday.
Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the subcommittee that the Guard will emphasize prevention of the scourge moving forward.
The Guard is complicated because it has federal and state missions. The status of the Guardsmen changes depending on what mission they are called up for. The Guard has to deal with local, state and federal jurisdictions.
"The women and men who serve in our formations, raised their right hands, took an oath to the Constitution, and stepped forward to fight our nation's wars and serve our communities in times of crisis," Hokanson said. "We owe them strong leadership at every level, and we owe them a workplace free from the violence of assault and harassment. This is a serious problem, and we recognize it as such."
Soon after taking over as the chief, Hokanson formed a task force to examine the situation in the organization. The members came from all 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia. Specifically, the task force looked at preventing sexual assault and suicide.
After six months, the group identified 19 recommendations in six strategic areas: leader education, growing a healthy culture, resource distribution and communication, partnerships, standardization of efforts and effective measurement. "Upon review of their recommendations, I accepted all of them," Hokanson told the committee. "Taken together, they mean one thing above all: We need a greater focus on prevention to eliminate sexual assault and harassment in our formations."
These 19 recommendations are in addition to the implementation of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III's Independent Review Commission recommendations.
Trust is at the heart of the effort. Guardsmen need to be able to trust their chains of command and have confidence in the Guard's victim advocacy and response services. "They need to have confidence in the offices that investigate sexual assault, and they need to have confidence that offenders will be held accountable," the general said.
Hokanson also ordered changes to the Office of Complex Investigations at the National Guard Bureau. The office is now a direct reporting unit. It is led by Air Force Brig. Gen. Chuck Walker, who in civilian life is a federal judge.
With the state adjutant generals, Hokanson increased the number of investigators by 60 percent, and is working to hire violence prevention integrators as resources become available. "These officers are responsible for assessing their state guard sexual assault response programs," he said. "Having a properly trained, professionalized force focused on addressing this issue helps demonstrate our commitment to eliminating sexual assault and harassment in the National Guard."
The Guard is also improving prevention training at each level. "In addition to better training, we're also finding ways to hold leaders accountable for the culture they create and oversee," he said.