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101st commander: Strong response to sex assault

Jun. 6, 2013 - 06:32PM   |  
Mark Stammer
Brig. Gen. Mark Stammer, the acting commander of Fort Campbell, Ky., while the 101st Airborne Division is deployed to Afghanistan, speaks with reporters about efforts to curb sexual assault and harassment within the Army on June 6. (Erik Schelzig/AP)
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FORT CAMPBELL, KY. — The 101st Airborne Division is doubling down on efforts to curb sexual assault and harassment, Fort Campbell’s acting commander said Thursday.

Brig. Gen. Mark Stammer told reporters that he has been meeting with officers this week to stress that inappropriate and illegal behavior won’t be tolerated at the sprawling Army post straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee state line.

“Those folks that commit these crimes act outside our values and are acting outside the law,” Stammer said. “They’re criminals.”

“When someone in and among us chooses to operate or behave outside of the bounds of our values and laws, we can’t hesitate on moving that guy or gal out of the system,” he said.

Stammer is leading a week-long effort to call attention to the military’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention program, which comes amid several prominent instances of sexual misconduct and calls from Congress for the Pentagon to revamp how it handles such allegations.

The previous manager of Fort Campbell’s sexual assault response program was arrested in a domestic dispute last month, causing superiors to reassign him, an episode the general said was unfortunate but hadn’t affected the program or the base’s efforts to curb sexual assaults and harassment.

According an affidavit filed by his former wife, Lt. Col. Darin Haas had been sending threatening text messages since shortly before their divorce was finalized in November 2011. She had taken an order of protection against her ex-husband that is still in effect.

Stammer repeated erroneous information that had been released at the time of the arrest by a Fort Campbell spokesman that Haas and his former wife had obtained mutual protection orders. A base spokesman clarified after the news conference that only Haas’ ex-wife had an obtained an order of protection.

Stammer said Haas had not joined a deployment to Afghanistan because he was on the verge of retirement, and a succession plan had already been in the works when he was arrested.

Haas, who turned himself in to police in Clarksville, Tenn., and was released, did not respond to messages seeking comment at the time.

Stammer said the arrest of Haas created a “very ugly perception,” but did not otherwise affect the Army’s dedication to fighting sexual abuse.

“This particular thing with Col. Haas, it has nothing to do with why we’re here today,” he said. “It’s an incident, a civil matter that occurred off-post between ex-spouses ... not sexual harassment or sexual assault.”

Education and prevention efforts continue when Fort Campbell troops deploy overseas. At bases in Afghanistan, where soldiers from the 101st are serving alongside Afghan troops, posters and signs provide details on where people can go to report sexual assault. One poster shows images of male and female soldiers with large X marks over their genitals.

Though the problem of sexual assaults has been portrayed as persistent and widespread within the military, Stammer said it usually traces back to a relatively small group.

“We’re talking about a few people, but those few people left unchecked can cause tremendous negative impact within the unit,” Stammer said. “A cancer if you will, a poison if you will. And it can’t be tolerated within the formation.”

Stammer said he opposes calls to shift decisions from military commanders to prosecutors on whether to pursue sexual misconduct charges. Commanders are “singularly responsible” of the operations under their supervision, and changing that structure could be harmful, he said.

“The commander has to remain in that central role in this process,” Stammer said. “I personally want him in that role, because I am personally going to hold him accountable for doing his job.

“He’s not going to have the excuse of, ‘Well, I gave that to the attorney and now it’s on him,’” he said. “No, it is on you. You have to train these men and you have to lead these men and women.”

Associated Press writer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

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