Gov. Evers signs off on National Guard improvement plan

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers approved a plan Monday to improve how the Wisconsin National Guard handles sexual misconduct complaints.

The plan includes a ban on internal sexual assault investigations. All complaints will be reported to the adjutant general, local police and the federal National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations.

The plan also calls for a new electronic case tracking system and a new council led by the adjutant general to provide state-level oversight of all sexual assault, sexual harassment and retaliation cases. Recruiting for judge advocate, sexual assault prevention and equal opportunity employment positions a priority.

Victims will be referred to National Guard Bureau attorneys at every step of their cases and information about disciplinary actions will be passed down the chain of command to individual soldiers and airmen while protecting victim privacy.

The Guard said the plan will implemented in phases and will be fully in place by Aug. 31.

“There is still much work to be done to ensure that our service members are safe and supported while carrying out their mission, but we are taking important steps to implement needed reforms,” Evers said.

Brig. Gen. Gary Ebben, the Wisconsin Guard's interim adjutant general, said in a statement that the plan will reassure soldiers and airmen that the Guard metes out discipline in sexual misconduct cases.

“Simultaneously, our commanders, junior leaders, and all our service members will have visibility on trends and issues across the force, and see that discipline is administered consistently and with transparency across the force,” he said.

Evers issued an executive order calling for the plan in December after the NGB conducted a top-to-bottom review of Guard sexual misconduct reporting protocols. The review resulted in a report revealing multiple shortcomings.

Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin requested the review in March after Master Sgt. Jay Ellis complained to Baldwin in 2018 that commanders in his 115th Fighter Wing security squadron had brushed off at least six sexual misconduct complaints dating back to 2002.

One of the most glaring problems investigators found was commanders opening internal sexual assault investigations rather than referring complaints to Army or Air Force criminal investigators as required by federal law and Department of Defense policy.

The Wisconsin Guard's top commander, Adj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, resigned at Evers' request hours before the report was made public. Air Force officials confirmed last month that Dunbar is under investigation for allegedly opening an internal investigation last year even though he knew the NGB investigators had identified such practices as problematic.