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National Guard responds to criticism

By Bonney Bowman 9:00 PM May 2, 2014

Alaska National Guard leaders are responding to criticism they’re not doing enough to assist the victims of sexual assault.

In the last five years, there have been 37 reported sexual assaults where the victims were National Guard soldiers.

Eleven of those were solider-on-solider violence. It’s a much smaller percentage than the number of assaults in the civilian population.

But Sen. Mark Begich says he’s been hearing complaints for years, ranging from abuse of power to assault and sexual assault.

He’s asked the National Guard Bureau, an independent third party, to investigate the issues.

The commander of the Alaska National Guard, Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges, says they’ve put numerous tools in place over the last couple years to ensure victims have protection and support.

The Guard has added three sexual assault response coordinators and 42 victim advocates.

But Begich says he still hears problems.

“There hasn’t been an aggressive approach to look at these individuals, look at the systematic problem within the Guard as I hear it on a regular basis. So if my staff is hearing it, I’m hearing it, then it’s worthwhile for our staff to look at it and investigate it,” Begich said.

Bridges says unlike the Army, the National Guard doesn’t have the power to prosecute crimes.

They rely on local law enforcement to bring charges and arrests.

“If they don’t find something to prosecute, we’re going to look at it using military good order and discipline standards anyway and we may apply discipline through those processes,” Bridges said.

The Guard can pursue administrative action, including discharging soldiers who commit crimes.

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