PHOENIX — A Defense Department agency's report on corrupt conduct in the Arizona National Guard says the state military organization suffers from lax discipline, unethical behavior by command personnel, a failure to assist sexual-abuse victims and multiple other problems.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer released the report Thursday and announced that Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, Arizona's adjutant general, will retire this year after 30 years of military service.
The 107-page National Guard Bureau report contains investigative findings from a team of military officers commissioned by Brewer after an Arizona Republic series in October series in October documented extensive criminal and ethical violations that whistle-blowers blamed on failed discipline and a corrupt culture.
The report verified newspaper accounts of fraud, fraternization, sexual abuse, assault and numerous other crimes, and the failure to discipline those responsible. However, it also concludes that commanders overall have attempted to address misconduct, and "have been working diligently to improve their practices."
In a statement released with the report, Brewer declared, "It is clear that the Arizona National Guard is not 'broken.' The findings are not an indictment of the Arizona National Guard, nor its leadership. ... Nonetheless, significant concerns were identified, and they will be remedied."
Brewer said she has instructed Salazar to develop a plan by May 17 to implement recommendations in the report. "I have depended upon his leadership of the Arizona National Guard, and will look for him to provide a steady hand and wise counsel as he transitions to planned retirement later this year."
In a letter to Brewer, Salazar described the assessment as "comprehensive," adding, "In general, I concur with the majority of findings and recommendations ... I believe the report shows that we are on the right track but that there is more that we can do."
The investigation was conducted by Maj. Gen. Ricky Adams and a team of officers who interviewed 35 witnesses and pored over military records between November and February. The review team found significant weaknesses in accountability, the reporting of misconduct, administrative actions, military justice and command ethics.
Among the findings:
- Senior leaders in the Guard have engaged in ethical misconduct, especially sexual relations with subordinates, that "clearly violated" military regulations. "This misconduct created the perception that leadership lacked the moral high ground to take appropriate steps when disciplinary matters arose."
- Full-time soldiers and airmen who committed serious wrongdoing rarely suffered military punishment. Instead, they were allowed to quit their jobs and remain in the National Guard. "Thus the misconduct would continue to permeate the good order and discipline of the organization."
- Prior to 2009, the Arizona Guard did not conduct military courts martial due to a shortage of funding and a lack of judges; systemic problems blocked commanders from meting out nonjudicial punishment.
- Victims of sexual abuse said their complaints were neglected or covered up. "Identified victims of sexual assault and harassment stated that they had been victimized twice: Once by the perpetrator and once by the leadership that was unable to address their needs."
- Ethical and criminal violations were "prevalent" among non-commissioned officers who abused their authority and committed fraud that included recruiting graft and forgeries of military records.
- The recent culture of the Arizona Guard "did not encourage members to report misconduct," and those who did so were hindered by retaliation by commanders. "They were specifically told to 'get on board' or 'quit making waves.' " That problem was exacerbated by "a lack of trust in the inspector general and legal offices," which are supposed to protect victims and whistle-blowers.
The assessment team also conducted an opinion survey of Guard personnel. Although 90 percent of the respondents listed high morale, nearly half of the soldiers and airmen called for improved leadership ethics, especially regarding fraternization, abuse of authority and fraud.
Four out of 10 soldiers and airmen said discipline is not meted out properly and leaders do not adhere to core values of the military. They also identified sexual assault, racism and favoritism as major problems.
Investigators said they met with numerous victims of adultery between supervisors and subordinates. "Each story was compelling in its impact on the families and the units involved," they wrote. "Most disturbing was the apparent lack of discretion exhibited by service members that blatantly violated fraternization policies.
"Fraternization, when engaged in by senior leaders, lays the groundwork for harassment ... and creates a permissive environment where misconduct can occur."
Wagner also reports for The Arizona Republic