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

Drag queen Gigi Monroe reads a book about a wig during Drag Storytime at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
One for the books: Drag Storytime returns

Balloons, books, bustin’ moves.

FILE - Tara Sweeney, a Republican seeking the sole U.S. House seat in Alaska, speaks during a forum for candidates, May 12, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Sweeney's campaign manager said, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, that the campaign did not plan to sue over a finding released by Alaska elections officials stating that she cannot advance to the special election for U.S. House following the withdrawal of another candidate. (AP Photo / Mark Thiessen, File)
Alaska Supreme Court ruling keeps Sweeney off House ballot

In a brief written order, the high court said it affirmed the decision of a Superior Court judge.

President Joe Biden signs into law S. 2938, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act gun safety bill, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 25, 2022. First lady Jill Biden looks on at right. (AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President signs landmark gun measure, says ‘lives will be saved’

The House gave final approval Friday, following Senate passage Thursday.

Three people were arrested over several days in a series of events stemming from a June 16 shoplifting incident, with a significant amount of methamphetamine seized. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Shoplifting investigation leads to arrests on drug charges

Significant amounts of drugs and loose cash, as well as stolen goods, were found.

Ben Gaglioti, an ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, stands next to a mountain hemlock tree damaged in winter on the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park in Southeast Alaska. (Courtesy Photos / Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Bonsai trees tell of winters long past

By Ned Rozell A GREEN PLATEAU NORTH OF LITUYA BAY — “These… Continue reading

This photo shows a return envelope from the recent special primary election for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. On Friday, a judge sided with the state elections office on a decision to omit fifth-place finisher Tara Sweeney from ballots in the special general election. Al Gross, who finished third in the special primary, dropped out of the race, creating confusing circumstances ahead of Alaska's first ranked choice vote. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Judge rules Sweeney wont advance to special election

Decision has Sweeney off the ballot for special election.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Saturday, June 25, 2022

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

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of June 19

Here’s what to expect this week.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Peter Froehlich, a retired Juneau district judge who is now a volunteer tour guide, explains the history of the history of the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ in the State Office Building to a group of visitors Thursday. The organ has been idle since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now needs repairs before regular Friday lunchtime concerts and other performances on the 94-year-old instrument can resume.
Historic organ is in need of tuneup

How much it will cost and who will do it remain up in the air.

Most Read