B R O K E N   T R U S T

How whistle-blowers and victims in the Alaska National Guard went unheard

Layout and design: Heather Bryant and Sarah Yu
Content: Jennifer Canfield
Editing: Alexandra Gutierrez and Jeremy Hsieh

Video footage courtesy George Kale/Alaska National Guard Public Affairs/DVIDS

Rumors of trouble in the Alaska National Guard have existed for years. In October 2013, allegations of sexual assault, rape, fraud and misappropriation of funds in the Guard came to light. A subsequent investigation by the Army’s Office of the Inspector General found nothing wrong in the Alaska Guard.

A few months later, the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations released a 228-page report that found instances of fraud and sexual assault committed by Guard members and leaders. Guard members reported a hostile work environment in which favoritism, ethical misconduct and fear of reprisal were present.

During a press conference held to discuss the report, then-Gov. Sean Parnell told reporters, “I’m extremely frustrated and I’m angry it’s taken so long to get to the bottom of these issues. The Alaska Guard members deserve better.”

On this site, we’ve compiled numerous news stories, primary source documents and created a timeline of events. This information will be updated as coverage continues.

Details from the recently released documents indicate an environment of intimidation for those who tried to report the abuse.

DOCUMENTS

Email log 1 – Released Oct. 24, 2014

Certification of Michael Nizich – Released Oct. 24, 2014

2014 10 31 Production1 – Released Oct. 31, 2014

Privilege Log 10 31 2014 Part 1 – Released Oct. 31, 2014

Privilege Log 10 31 2014 Part 2 – Released Oct. 31, 2014

Privilege Log 10 31 2014 Part 3 – Released Oct. 31, 2014

Part 2 – Released Nov. 1, 2014

Part 3 – Released Nov. 1, 2014

2014 11 01 OGNG Combined – Released Nov. 1, 2014

2014 11 01 OGNG2 Combined – Released Nov. 1, 2014

2014 11 02 OGNG Combined – Released Nov. 2, 2014

2014 11 02 OGNG Combined – Released Nov. 2, 2014

2014 11 03 OGNG Combined – Released Nov. 3, 2014

2014 11 04 OGNG Combined – Released Nov. 4, 2014

OGNG 001548 OGNG 002133 PrivilegeLog – Released Nov. 4, 2014

OGNG 000718 OGNG 001034 PrivilegeLog – Released Nov. 4, 2014

OGNG 001035 OGNG 001547 PrivilegeLog – Released Nov. 4, 2014

2014 11 05 OGNG Combined – Released Nov. 5, 2014

Parnell Records Combined

2015-04-24_SOA_Combined – Released Apr. 24, 2015

Detailed log of records released by Walker [Excel file download]

McClatchy reporter Sean Cockerham published the first news report about trouble in the Alaska National Guard. There were allegations that the Guard did not treat sexual assault reports seriously. One victim claimed a superior officer violated her confidentiality. Weeks after telling the officer that she’d been raped, fellow Guard members came to her with not only rumors that she’d been raped but also false rumors about how the rape happened.

An investigation into Army Guard recruiters accused of raping and having inappropriate relationships with new recruits began that year. Lt. Col. Jane Wawersik led the investigation, and eventually obtained a protective order against one of the recruiters accused of sexual misconduct. Master Sgt. John Nieves told his counselor that he had a “specific plan” to harm Wawersik. The Fort Richardson counselor took Nieves’ words seriously and contacted Wawersik.

In that first news story, Cockerham also revealed that a group of military chaplains had been telling Parnell about sexual assault and morale issues in the Guard since 2010.

In February 2014, a dozen Alaska National Guard members were charged in military court with sexual misconduct; five of them were recruiters. One month later, Parnell requested the National Guard Bureau to conduct an investigation into allegations of sexual assault and fraud.

In April, Parnell defended his response to four years of allegations about sexual assault in the Guard. He said that he’d talked to Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, the Guard’s top officer, about his concerns and that Katkus had assured him that the Guard has systems in place to protect members. Parnell would be forced to publicly defend his response several more times throughout the year as he campaigned for re-election.

The National Guard Bureau released its report four months later in September. The report found members lacked trust and confidence in leadership to effectively deal with sexual assault allegations. The same day the report was released to the public, Katkus was asked to submit his resignation. In the following weeks, several more Guard leaders would be “asked to resign.”

As more victims and whistle-blowers went public, Parnell’s response to the Guard situation was intensely scrutinized. His office was criticized for refusing to release documents and emails related to the Guard scandal. Eventually, two media organizations were successful in suing the now-former governor for the records, which were released just days before the election.

WHO’S INVOLVED

Photo courtesy Melissa Jones

Melissa Jones

An Alaska Army National Guard specialist who says she was raped in 2007. When she reported the rape to her superior, he told her to contact the chaplain.
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Rosa Ralls

An Alaska Army National Guard sergeant who says she experienced two sexual assaults, an abusive husband and a year of harassment at work who went public with her story in October 2013.
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Anonymous victim

In an interview with Anchorage TV station KTVA, “Jane Doe” says she was assaulted twice during her 13-year National Guard; one of those times by a senior enlisted officer.
Read More...

Chaplain Matt Friese/Photo courtesy DMVA

Chaplains

Four National Guard chaplains were active in voicing their concerns to the governor’s office about distrust, misuse of resources, abuses of power and sexual assault in the organization.
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National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations

National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations: The author of a report released by the governor’s office Sept. 4, 2014.
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Gov. Sean Parnell

The governor faces accusations that he did not act soon enough after hearing about problems in the National Guard.
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Mike Nizich

Chief of Staff to Gov. Sean Parnell. Served as the main point of contact for the National Guard’s whistle-blower chaplains.
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Lt. Col. Jane Wawersik

A former Anchorage police officer who was reported to have been investigating allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate relations with recruits in the Guard.
Read More...

Illustration by Josh Genuino/Anchorage Press

The Three-Headed Monster

Identified as National Guard recruiters Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Tallant, Sgt. Jarrett Carson and Sgt. John Nieves in an Army investigation report leaked to the Anchorage Press.
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Matthew Tully

An attorney from Tully Rinckey PLLC. in Washington, D.C. He represents Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Tallant, Sgt. Jarrett Carson and Sgt. John Nieves in a case against the Army.
Read More...

Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus

Head of the Alaska National Guard and Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. Gov. Sean Parnell requested his resignation Sept. 4, 2014.

Photo courtesy Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

McHugh Pierre

Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs.
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Col. Timothy DeHaas

While not explicitly named in the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations report, details provided are sufficient to identify him.
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Col. Donald Wenke

Accused by chaplain Rick Cavens of looking the other way when a particular guardsman — while in uniform — would “get drunk and make advances on enlisted women.”
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Brig. Gen. Catherine Jorgensen

Guard chief of staff and land component commander.
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Col. Edith Grunwald

Director of human resources for the Guard.
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Chris Bydalek

A former contractor with the Guard who sent numerous complaints to the governor’s office regarding the Alaska National Guard.
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Kenneth Blaylock

Retired lieutenant colonel in the Alaska Army National Guard, former commander of the recruiting battalion and husband to Debra Blaylock.
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Courtesy Debra Blaylock

Debra Blaylock

Retired lieutenant colonel in Alaska Army National Guard and wife of whistle-blower Kenneth Blaylock.
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Lt. Col. Joseph Lawendowski

Former commander of the recruiting battalion.
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Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Brown

Lt. Col. Joseph Lawendowski’s supervisor and linked to Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Tallant as a personal friend.

Brig. Gen. Leon M. “Mike” Bridges

Acting adjutant general and commissioner of the Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. Assigned after Katkus’ departure.

Sean Cockerham

The McClatchy reporter who first broke the story about an investigation into sexual misconduct in the Alaska National Guard.

Courtesy Linda Dunegan

Linda Dunegan

A retired lieutenant colonel in the Alaska Air National Guard.
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Courtesy Alaska House Majority

Nancy Dahlstrom

Former state representative and an aide to Gov. Sean Parnell.
Read More...

THE TIMELINE

IN-DEPTH COVERAGE