Four months after a federal investigation found that some members of the Alaska National Guard were ostracized and abused after reporting sexual assaults, Gov. Bill Walker on Friday named a new leader to “turn the page” on the Guard’s damaged culture.
Ret. U.S. Army Col. Laurel Hummel was appointed adjutant general, the first woman to lead the state’s National Guard. She will also serve as the commissioner of the state department of military and veterans affairs.
“Changing culture is a slow process, but it starts with making sure there’s one set of standards, one set of rules that everyone obeys, no matter where they are in the chain of command,” Hummel said during a press conference. “There will be no old boys network. There will be no old girls network.”
In September, Maj. Gen. Thomas H. Katkus was forced to resign after a scathing investigation found numerous allegations of sexual abuse and other misconduct in the Guard. The report found that some sexual assault complaints before 2012 were not properly documented, that the victims were not referred to advocates and that their confidentiality was breached.
The inquiry also found that while Alaska National Guard officials launched numerous internal investigations into sexual assault reports, those investigations were not always adequately conducted. When surveyed, a number of guard members said they had little trust in the leadership.
The scandal became an issue in the November gubernatorial race. Republican incumbent Sean Parnell, who was initially thought to be a shoo-in, faced criticism over his handling of the Guard’s sexual assault allegations. He was defeated by independent Bill Walker.
Hummel graduated from West Point in 1982 and was a member of the academy’s third graduating class that included women. Walker described her as having a “very distinguished background and record, very appropriate to step up and take the reins and basically turn the page of the Alaska National Guard.”
Hummel served 30 years of active duty and also worked as a professor at the U.S. Military Academy’s department of geography and environmental engineering at West Point, according to the governor’s office. She recently ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the state House of Representatives in November.
“We’re looking to restore a climate of mutual trust and respect,” Hummel said Friday. “We’ll be doing a top-down and bottom-up review of our priorities, our missions, our objectives and procedures and determine what needs to be changed.”
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