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Updated May 28, 2013 - 4:43 pm

Dems hold hearing on Arizona National Guard misconduct

PHOENIX -- An Arizona National Guard officer told an Arizona House panel Tuesday that he went to the press to report misconduct after the Guard's top leadership failed to discipline soldiers caught lying, stealing and sexually exploiting female recruits.

The testimony from Lt. Col. Robert White came weeks after a report prompted by an Arizona Republic series confirmed what White reported was true. That report found misconduct uncovered by the Republic last year was more pervasive than previously known.

White said he conducted an investigation in 2009 into suspected misconduct by recruiters, and found that non-commissioned offers took female recruits out on ``bum hunts'' where they would shoot homeless people with paintball guns. The 17- and 18-year-old female recruits also were told to show their breasts to the transients, White testified. He also said that two soldiers lied under oath during his investigation.

When White returned from a Pentagon assignment in 2011, he learned only one person had been disciplined, so he went to two senior officers to find out why. ``This is what Maj. Gen. (Hugo) Salazar decided to do,'' he said he was told.

Salazar is the adjutant general in charge of the 8,000-member state Guard.

White and other current and former Guard members testified at a hearing called by Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, that they were retaliated against for complaining about wrongdoing that was being ignored by commanders. Only Democrats were on the panel, after Davis said committees controlled by Republicans wouldn't hold hearings. Republican Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City did attend part of the two-hour hearing as an observer.

``When I went to the press, I knew I was committing career suicide,'' said White, who was on active duty but now is a part-time Guard officer.

One current officer testified that the newspaper stories focused on misconduct and not the vast majority of Guard members who are superb soldiers.

``I was saddened to hear some of the stories I heard today,'' said Col. Steven Smith, who heads the 98th Regional Support Group. ``I still believe we have a strong organization. We have a great organization.''

After the Republic began publishing stories about the Guard last year that included the recruiting problems and a large number of other issues, Gov. Jan Brewer asked the federal National Guard Bureau to investigate.

That report released May 2 examined wrongdoing including sexual abuses, drunken driving, narcotics trafficking, embezzlement, retaliation against whistle-blowers and abuses of power.

The report generally found the allegations reported by the Republic occurred and were mostly swiftly and effectively addressed. In some cases, the report found, punishment didn't follow military or state guidelines and was inconsistently administered.

Brewer said the report showed the state Guard wasn't ``broken'' but ordered a remediation plan. That plan, released earlier this month, includes increased training and reforms designed to be ``catalysts for broad, systemic program change,'' Salazar wrote in a letter to Brewer.

A key priority will be addressing issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and some new programs and procedures already have been implemented, including mandatory reporting of alleged misconduct by leadership personnel and revisions of the Arizona Code of Military Justice and court-martial policies to enable appropriate disciplinary actions.

The Guard will also conduct regular personnel surveys on integrity, leadership and morale issues, developing a tracking system for investigations of misconduct and providing enhanced training and response to sexual harassment and abuse.

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