May 26 (Bloomberg) -- The Army is investigating the commander of a battalion at the main U.S. missile defense base for condoning sexual affairs at the remote facility in Alaska, creating what subordinates called a “toxic environment.”
The service already was looking into the commander at Fort Greely, dedicated to defending the U.S. from missile attack, for promoting a World War II-style pinup calendar with photos of his wife and scantily clad female soldiers.
The investigation involving Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Miley, the commander of the Alaska Army National Guard’s 49th Missile Defense Battalion, was confirmed in an e-mailed statement by Marco Morales, a spokesman for the Space and Missile Defense Command, who declined to discuss details.
Miley said in a Jan. 4 meeting that adultery isn’t punishable under military law, according to soldiers who complained in an e-mail two days later to the head of the missile defense command. According to Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, adultery is a criminal offense if the affair is prejudicial to good order and discipline.
“The modern military is an environment where sexual misconduct is commonplace,” Miley said at the meeting, according to comments cited in the e-mail and confirmed by one of the people who was in the audience. Bloomberg News obtained a copy of the e-mail, which was unsigned, and the account was confirmed by three people who worked on the base and are familiar with the events.
The allegations surfaced amid an uproar over a surge in sexual-assault allegations in the military that President Barack Obama has described as “shameful and disgraceful.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told graduates at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point yesterday that they must build a “culture of respect” to stop “these debilitating, insidious and destructive forces.”
At Fort Greely, fraternization increased and enlisted soldiers seemed to get favorable treatment from officers for trading sexual favors because no disciplinary action was taken in cases of adultery, according to one of the three people, who said they spoke on condition of anonymity because the Army had forbidden them from discussing the allegations.
The battalion has at least 16 women among its 195 members, including a military police contingent, according to a unit phone list.
Miley declined to comment when contacted by phone and referred questions to the unit’s public affairs office. The spokesman there directed queries to the Space and Missile Defense Command.
The Huntsville, Alabama-based command received two sets of allegations involving misconduct at the battalion -- the first in August and the second in January -- and is conducting a joint inquiry with the Alaska Army National Guard, Morales said in the statement.
A soldier can be charged with adultery only if he or she violates a “no-contact order,” Miley was quoted in the complaint as saying at the January meeting.
The 49th Battalion’s soldiers said in their e-mail to Lieutenant General Richard Formica, head of the Space and Missile Defense Command, that Miley’s condoning of sexual affairs left them fearing “for our wives and even our children in this toxic environment.”
Fort Greely, about 250 miles (402 kilometers) northeast of Anchorage, is home to 26 interceptors that are part of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system intended to shoot down long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles such as the ones that North Korea and Iran are suspected of developing.
While the system managed by Chicago-based Boeing Co. hasn’t successfully intercepted a test target since December 2008, Hagel reinforced their role in a potential attack when he announced in March plans to spend $1 billion adding 14 more interceptors at Fort Greely by 2017.
The isolated base is portrayed on its website as the “home of the rugged professional,” who’s likely to come upon a moose or fox amid snow-capped mountains. The town of Fort Greely has a population of 539, according to U.S. Census data, and the winters are so cold it’s the location of the military’s Cold Regions Test Center for winter warfare.
Miley called the January meeting of all officers in the battalion after one of his subordinates, a captain, allegedly had an affair with the wife of another officer in the unit, according to the three people,
In addition to the captain’s affair, the three people said the soldiers’ complaint involved sexual relations between a non-commissioned officer and enlisted soldiers.
The probe, an informal investigation under Army regulations, is still under way and has no set deadline, Morales said. Once it is complete, Formica and Brigadier General Leon Bridges, commander of the Alaska Army National Guard, will determine whether any further action is warranted, according to Morales.
The disputed pinup calendar was sold to raise funds for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay For Life,” the Army Times newspaper reported in March, quoting a spokesman for the Space and Missile Defense Command.
Other military units around the country also have sold pinup calendars featuring military spouses and soldiers to raise money for veterans, the newspaper said.
The Pentagon has been confronting an increase in reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and crime and is under pressure from Congress to overhaul the way it deals with such cases. Some lawmakers have introduced legislation that would take the power to prosecute sexual crimes and abuse outside the military chain of command.
The Defense Department released results this month of a survey estimating 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact last year, a 35 percent increase from two years earlier.
Top military leaders have called for stronger measures to combat sexual crime and misconduct.
“The Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment,” General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said in a message to soldiers. “It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Odierno wrote.
The military also is pursuing three cases in which officers who worked in sexual-assault prevention programs were accused of wrongdoing including assault, mistreatment of subordinates and inducing prostitution.
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