Outrage even before report’s release on sex assault in Wisconsin National Guard

By: - December 5, 2019 3:54 pm
Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general delivers remarks at the 2014 Executive Safety Summit at Volk Field Combat Readiness Training Center, Wis., May 13, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Master Sgt. Marvin Preston/ Released)

Maj. Gen. Donald P. Dunbar, Wisconsin adjutant general in May 13, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard Photo by Master Sgt. Marvin Preston/ Released)

A report looking into potentially egregious sexual assault and abuse in the Wisconsin National Guard is now in the hands of Gov. Tony Evers, and will be released to the public, likely early next week.

The Wisconsin National Guard has been in the news throughout 2019 for problems with sexual assault and possible punishment of a whistle-blower who drew attention to it. Calls for an investigation came from both sides of the political aisle, including state Senate Majority Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin requested that the National Guard Bureau — a federal agency of the Air Force and Army that oversees National Guard units — investigate back in April. Evers indicated he will make the results of that investigation public after Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin’s Adjutant General is briefed, tentatively planned for Saturday.

Given the “gravity” of the situation, Evers also arranged for the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations to brief legislative leadership on Monday afternoon, according to a letter he sent to Senate and Assembly leaders of both parties.

Fitzgerald, after seeing media reports on the investigation, said via email that he felt “shock” at how appalled the investigators were as they looked into the Wisconsin National Guard’s handling of the situation.

“Soldiers and my constituents asked me almost a year ago to bring this matter to the governor’s attention, and I’m grateful for the work that federal authorities did investigating these cases.

 “As the one in charge of Wisconsin’s National Guard, the governor has a duty to respond to this pressing matter. I want to read the report and hear what OCI has to say on the specific shortfalls in Wisconsin. It is the responsibility of the Department of Military Affairs to keep the brave men and women serving our state safe.”

Fitzgerald concludes: “Clearly changes must be made.”

Evers’ letter states that the investigation included “1,600 personnel, conducting 78 in-depth interviews, reviewing more than 1,100 documents, and visiting 10 military sites throughout our state.”

He also noted in his letter to legislative leadership that he will announce the steps he will take to address the findings to “ensure that our men and women in uniform work in an environment free from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and retaliation.”

Capital Times reporter Katelyn Ferrell, who is closely following the story reported two additional findings Thursday that fueled the outrage.

  • A leaked tape recording of a federal investigator harshly critiquing the state’s “attempt” to prosecute a soldier, calling it an “absolute train wreck.”
  • An email where former Attorney General Brad Schimel’s chief-of-staff, Delanie Breuer, emailed her boss about her efforts to get federal authorities “off the back” of the Dunbar, saying “I’m hoping if I keep doing him favors, I’ll get a ride on an F-35.” 

The issue of sexual assault in the military has been in a national spotlight as well. The Department of Defense released a report in May of this year showing that in a biennial anonymous survey, 20,500 service members (13,000 women and 7,500 men) reported “contact or penetrative sexual assault” in 2018, although numbers may be higher as statistics show only 1 in 3 service members report sexual assault to the Defense Department.

That number is a 40%  spike in just two years. It also showed a rise in penetrative sexual assault, with nearly 60% of respondents saying they had been assaulted by someone who outranked them. Seventy-six percent of the victims said they did not report the crime. The national statistics are further detailed in a one-page sheet by the group Protect Our Defenders.

If you or a friend are in need of help or advice, the U.S. Department of Defense has a Safe Helpline phone (call 877-995-5247 to be connected with a trained, confidential Safe Helpline staff member, 24/7) and website hotline for help, as well as a place to file a report. Any survivor of sexual violence can also call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-4637 or converse online with a trained support specialist from the hotline here.

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Melanie Conklin
Melanie Conklin

Melanie Conklin was the Wisconsin Examiner's founding Deputy Editor, serving from its launch July 1, 2019, until Feb. 1, 2022. She is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications before returning to journalism at the Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.