The superb series this week by Cap Times reporter Katelyn Ferral describing the Wisconsin Army National Guard's inadequate response to charges of sexual assault in its ranks was to me, in a word, sad.
Sad because after two years of active duty I spent roughly 26 years in the Wisconsin Guard and, for the most part, I was proud of what the Guard stood for, the conduct of its soldiers and its long record of accomplishments that date back to World War I.
Its old 32nd "Red Arrow" Infantry Division was considered the cream of the crop in the liberation of France that ended the war in 1918. The division then went on to serve 654 straight days in combat in the Pacific Theater during World War II, more than any other U.S. division.
(If one wanted to be technical about it, you could date the Wisconsin Guard to the Civil War when the state's volunteers, commanded by Arthur MacArthur, the father of five-star general Douglas, fought with the Union Army and charged into battle hollering "On, Wisconsin." Pieces of those units were incorporated into the Guard when it was organized years later.)
In more recent years, Wisconsin Guard troops have been called to active duty during Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and thousands have been activated for the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to this very day. Several have suffered injuries. Some have given their lives.
Frankly, it's hard to understand how a culture, especially in these days of national awareness, could have grown to inadequately address complaints from women soldiers and officers about the prevalence of sexual misconduct.
Then again, perhaps it isn't surprising. As the number of women soldiers have increased in all the armed services, so have the incidents of sexual assault and harassment. They've grown to alarming numbers, and worse, some 52 percent of those who have complained report that they experienced retaliation for doing so. Consequently, thousands of cases are never reported to military authorities.
Ferral's reporting shows, sadly, that things aren't any different in the Wisconsin Guard. Not only have women like 1st Lt. Megan Plunkett faced retaliation, they have suffered from chronic health problems, depression and even PTSD related to sexual trauma. Consequently, their performance suffers and chances for promotions and better pay are dashed.
Consequently, they are robbed of the promised opportunities that were made to induce them to join the Guard in the first place.
What the series also shows is how inadequate the Guard has been in investigating the charges. Those who conduct sexual misconduct investigations clearly have not been sensitized on how to handle the accusers or the accused. Further, there is an inadequate support system for the women who have been traumatized by their experiences.
This all has to change — and quickly. The Wisconsin Guard has to reexamine its procedures, institute better training for commanders and officers on what to look for and establish a support system that can restore a soldier's self-esteem.
The Wisconsin Guard's proud history depends on removing this stain.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org, 608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.
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