May 28 (Bloomberg) -- Allegations that sexual affairs were condoned on the Alaska military base that provides the nation’s main defense against a missile attack demand a full investigation, according to the state’s U.S. senators.
Democratic Senator Mark Begich said the allegations, if true, “are not only reprehensible but show a serious loss of focus on the missile defense mission that is critical for the safety of all Americans.” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said yesterday she would demand that an Army investigation into Fort Greely ensures “a true zero-tolerance policy for all sexual misconduct among our men and women in uniform.”
The Army is investigating Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Miley, the commander of the Army National Guard’s 49th Missile Defense battalion at the base in Alaska, after soldiers complained that he condoned sexual affairs at the remote facility, creating what they called a “toxic environment.”
The Army already was looking into Miley for promoting a World War II-style pinup calendar with photos of his wife and scantily clad female soldiers when new allegations were made about multiple affairs that had gone unpunished. The unit, which reports to the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command while on duty, is part of the Alaska Army National Guard.
Begich said in an e-mailed statement that he urged Governor Sean Parnell, who oversees the Alaska Army National Guard, to ensure a thorough investigation into the allegations. Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor, referred questions to the Guard.
The Guard and the Space and Missile Defense Command have “aggressively investigated these allegations in a fair and appropriate manner,” Lieutenant Colonel Guy Hayes, the Guard’s chief of public affairs, said in an e-mailed statement. “We are now assessing the findings of the investigation and will make determinations as to the appropriate disciplinary actions for any of the sustained allegations.”
While the allegations at Fort Greely don’t involve rape or other sexual assaults, they surfaced amid an uproar over a surge in reported attacks 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 on May 25 that they must build a “culture of respect” to stop “these debilitating, insidious and destructive forces.”
Miley said in a Jan. 4 meeting that adultery isn’t punishable under military law unless it involves violating a “no-contact order,” according to soldiers who complained in an e-mail two days later to the head of the missile defense command. 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.
While Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice says adultery is a criminal offense if the affair is prejudicial to good order and discipline, its application may be questioned to the extent that National Guard units are governed by the laws of their states.
“The modern military is an environment where sexual misconduct is commonplace,” Miley also said at the meeting, according to comments cited in the e-mail and confirmed by one of the people who was in the audience.
Fraternization at Fort Greely 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 that person. The three people said they spoke on condition of anonymity because the Army had forbidden them from discussing the allegations.
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 Army’s investigation at Fort Greely was confirmed in an e-mailed statement by Marco Morales, a spokesman for the Space and Missile Defense Command, who declined to discuss details.
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.
The battalion has at least 16 women among its 195 members, including a military police contingent, according to a unit phone list.
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 Jan. 4 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.
Bills in Congress
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.
Murkowski said in an e-mailed statement that she has sponsored or backed “four separate bills to address the rising crisis of sexual assault in our military, and I will be no less demanding in seeing the results of this Greely investigation lead to a true zero-tolerance policy for all sexual misconduct” in the military.
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.
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.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at firstname.lastname@example.org