House weighs military justice bill

The judiciary committee of the House of Representatives met Tuesday to discuss judicial reforms inspired by a series of savage sexual assaults in the Alaska National Guard.

The committee discussed House Bill 126, which would establish an Alaska Code of Military Justice, allowing members of the Alaska National Guard to be court-martialed and given dishonorable discharges from the service.

“It might surprise people to know the Alaska National Guard has never in its history given a dishonorable discharge … though it might have been warranted,” said National Guard Capt. Forrest Dunbar.

Dunbar explained that without a state code of military justice, the Alaska National Guard has few tools to punish small or severe offenses within its ranks.

“A code of military justice is similar to a criminal code, and it will give our commanders the ability to conduct courts martial and what is called nonjudicial punishement,” explained Dunbar, who in civilian life unsuccessfully ran for office as a Democrat against U.S. Rep. Don Young last year.

In October 2013, rumors of trouble in the Alaska National Guard surfaced in stories by former Anchorage Daily News reporter Sean Cockerham.

A subsequent investigation by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations found Guard members and leaders had committed fraud and sexual assault. Guard rank-and-file said they faced a hostile response or none at all when attempting to report the problems.

The scandal was a contributing factor to the upset victory of independent Gov. Bill Walker over incumbent Republican Sean Parnell in 2014.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage and chairwoman of the committee, asked whether having a code of justice would have prevented the scandal.

“Can you honestly say that with the former leadership with the Guard … that simply by having this bill that would have made a difference?” she asked. “I guess I don’t really see this bill, in and of itself, as — if you don’t have good leadership — making much of a difference.”

“We don’t believe this is a silver bullet,” Dunbar replied, but “we believe this is part of a solution.”

In addition to pushing the creation of the code, the Guard’s leadership has been replaced, and a new position — provost marshal — has been created to address internal problems.

Much of the discussion during Tuesday’s meeting — which lasted almost four hours — dealt with details about how the code will be implemented among National Guardsmen, who are on active duty only part of the year, and among volunteers of the Alaska State Defense Force, Alaska’s official militia.

Dunbar said the principal obstacle to establishing a code of conduct is “cost and resources.”

Documents from April estimate that implementing the code would cost the state about $189,000 per year.

“We are basically creating a system of military justice, and that’s not cheap,” he said. “I believe the command has decided, and I hope this Legislature agrees, that this is worth it.”

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage and House Majority Leader, said she thinks so.

“Even though the cost would be increased, the cost to human lives will be decreased,” she said. “I think that’s something we can’t miss.”

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Dec. 3

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

People and dogs traverse the frozen surface Mendenhall Lake on Monday afternoon. Officials said going on to any part of Mendenhall Lake can open up serious risks for falling into the freezing waters. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Officials warn residents about the dangers of thin ice on Mendenhall Lake

Experts outline what to do in the situation that someone falls through ice

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

Most Read