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Troops in key posts may be rechecked for sex offenses

Mar. 8, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has discussed with Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy leaders an Army review that disqualified 588 soldiers from posts as sexual assault counselors and whether those services should follow the Army’s lead.

Hagel’s request stopped short of a directive to re-screen those troops. The Navy disqualified five sailors, while the Marine Corps and Air Force had no suspensions. USA Today reported last week that the Army suspended its soldiers for offenses ranging from sexual assault to child abuse and drunken driving. It is seeking to kick 79 of those soldiers from its ranks entirely; the others have been reassigned.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, Hagel’s spokesman, said Hagel “has discussed the Army’s results with the other services and solicited their views about whether or not they should follow suit.”

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told Hagel during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday that it appeared the other services used different criteria than the Army in screening its troops. She pressed him on whether he would issue a new directive, calling on the other services to follow the Army’s path.

Speier said she learned of the Army’s move to suspend its soldiers from the news story and asked that the results of a new review be made public.

In May, Hagel issued a broad order to the services telling them to “review the credentials and qualifications” of sexual assault counselors, victim advocates and recruiters to ensure they met applicable standards.

Army Secretary John McHugh expanded Hagel’s order, calling for a “comprehensive review” that also included drill instructors and sergeants conducting advanced individual training, according to a memo. In all, the Army examined records of more than 20,000 soldiers for fitness in handling sensitive posts.

The last year has seen major changes in the way the military handles sexual assault in its ranks. The Pentagon’s own reporting in May found that incidents of unwanted sexual contact reported by troops had spiked by more than one-third from 2010 to 2012.

High-profile sexual assault allegations fueled calls for sweeping changes. The arrest and trial of an Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs who was accused of drunkenly groping a woman outside a bar is emblematic of the incidents. The officer was later acquitted of sexual assault charges.

On Thursday, a measure to strip commanders of the authority to decide whether sexual assault allegations go to trial died in the Senate because it fell five votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. It was the most radical approach to overhauling the military justice system in the past year, and several others were passed, including one that prevents commanders from overturning jury convictions and another that assigns special counsel to those bringing complaints.

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