17 leaders from Guard company in Kosovo removed amid investigation of abuses
STUTTGART, Germany — More than a dozen leaders from a National Guard company deployed on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo have been removed from the unit following an Army investigation into allegations about harsh tactics used to initiate junior troops, the commander of U.S. Army Europe said Thursday.
“The ones pulled out were all NCOs and officers. Right now, we have a total of 17,” Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. “Some have committed more serious offenses than others.”
Among those reassigned was the commander of the company, which is from Georgia’s 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, Hertling said.
Hertling declined to go into detail about the nature of the abuses, citing the continuing investigation that is expected to result in formal charges within a week. However, Hertling said that many of the problems stemmed from “excessive physical demands” on soldiers in an attempt to initiate them into the unit.
“Think of the opening scenes to (the film) ‘G.I. Jane’ with the SEALs,” Hertling said, referring to a film about a woman who enters special operations-style training and is put to the test.
“It really was sort of an attempt to initiate new people into the company,” Hertling added. “It was an attempt at these rites of passages that were inappropriate and that were a violation of our values.”
The consequences for the soldiers could range from courts-martial and Article 15s — a nonjudicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice — to general officer memorandums and counseling, depending on the degree of culpability, Hertling said.
“There were several leaders in the company that were more contributory than others,” Hertling said. “This is bad news for a group of leaders doing things in violation of our values, but this is one of the messages I’m trying to get out: Good leaders don’t do this kind of crap.”
The USAREUR investigation was launched soon after a formal complaint was made in early February by a private in the unit, who reported a hostile work environment. Army criminal investigators learned there were widespread problems in the unit, Hertling said.
USAREUR and Col. Jeffrey J. Liethen, who commands all of the National Guard units assigned to Multinational Battle Group-East at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, launched an investigation, a fact-gathering. Meanwhile, Army CID investigators also interviewed each member of the company, which includes more than 100 soldiers, Hertling said.
“As it turned out, there was an atmosphere within the leaders of this company of indiscipline and no adherence to Army values,” Hertling said. “I want to emphasize, this was an incident confined to one company within the Multinational Battle Group East.”
The battle group consists of about 15 National Guard units drawn from across the country.
Because so many of the Georgian company’s leaders were pulled from their positions, USAREUR recently deployed two Army platoons and a command team from the Hohenfels-based 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry to support the company, Hertling said.
“This company needs to be retrained to a degree,” he said.
In Kosovo, the winter months will provide time for the unit to regroup, but come spring, when tensions sometimes flare in the region, the soldiers must be prepared, Hertling said.
“We need to make sure they’re ready,” he said.
Hertling said, on his next visit to Camp Bondsteel he intends to seek out the young private who filed the initial report that launched the broader investigation.
“I applaud the young private,” Hertling said. “He was a new guy to the unit and it took a lot of personal courage to come forward. This kid pulled it together in a tough environment and stepped forward.”