An investigation into the Arizona Army National Guard has turned up some startling allegations, accusing military recruiters of a decade of unchecked misconduct. The Arizona Republic reports that a small group of military recruiters – who are assigned to visit high schools in an effort to enlist students into the armed forces – engaged in sexual abuse, forgery, embezzlement and assaults, including “riding a Humvee and shooting paintball guns at homeless people.”
Investigators from the National Guard asserted that the gross misconduct went ignored, partly because many supervisors were also engaged in “unethical behavior.” Even when discipline was meted out, it was slight. NBC News reports that non-commissioned officers (NCOs) caught driving drunk in military vehicles were “dealt with lightly,” that recruiters who forged records and took fraudulent paychecks were merely transferred. Allegedly, one recruiter had sex with a female enlistee, but was still allowed to deploy overseas. Once overseas, he was disciplined for “similar offenses,” and was transferred to the California National Guard … as a high school recruiter.
Staff Sgt. Chad Wille reported the alleged inappropriate behavior, and was “harassed” by colleagues. Wille was confronted by an angry local while filling up a military Humvee at a gas station. The local man reported that he had seen the same vehicle weeks earlier, driving through town shooting people with paintball guns. Wille addressed the man who had the keys to the Humvee during the alleged shootings, Master Sgt. Joseph Martin. Martin told Wille that he had given the keys to fellow recruiter Sgt. 1st Class Michael Amerson, then asked Wille, “You’re not aware of the bum hunts?”
Wille reported Amerson, the driver who had allegedly led the “bum hunts,” but was told by his supervision to “let it go.” Amerson taunted Wille in a text message, saying “Ha, ha, ha, [they’re] not going to do anything.” Wille, a retired police officer and new to the National Guard, reported, “I got a little angry, and the police department (training) came back out of me.”
And then the real trouble began.
Wille was ostracized for “whistle-blowing,” which is a military member’s protected right to report misconduct without fear of retaliation. Wille, however, began experiencing plenty of retaliation. While questioning fellow recruiters about Amerson’s actions, he was met with silence. Until he started talking to the young enlistees. Soon, a 17-year-old private admitted to taking part in Amerson’s “missions targeting the homeless.” The teen told Wille that she and other female cadets were “pressured by Amerson to cruise with him and flash their breasts at indigents, who were induced to dance, sing or show their own bosoms for money.” The young private reported that in one of the alleged “bum hunts,” Amerson offered a homeless woman $10 to expose her breasts. He then refused to pay, “then screeched away as the lady grabbed onto the recruiting vehicle’s passenger window.” An investigation into the incident reports, “The female was pulled along and then spun off the car, landing on the ground. She (the soldier) did not know if the female was hurt because they did not stop.”
One teenage recruit claimed that, as part of an alleged mandatory physical, Amerson took her to his private office:
“[Amerson] instructed her to remove her shirt so he could determine whether she was pregnant. According to investigative records, she wept describing how he used a tape measure and fondled her, making her feel ‘dirty and disgusted,’ then took her to a pharmacy to get a pregnancy test, which came out negative.”
Throughout the investigation, many military members allegedly received phone calls encouraging them to remain silent or lie when asked about the goings on at the Phoenix office. One young private, who was recruited by Amerson, told investigators: “I wasn’t following the Army Code of Conduct — the rules of the Army — and I guess I sort of got that idea from Sgt. Amerson that ‘You can do whatever you want, as long as people don’t know.'”
Amerson insisted that “There was nothing behind any of that,” reports The Arizona Republic.
Sgt. 1st Class Marie Ann Neilson allegedly reported that Amerson was having an affair with a teenager. Instead of disciplining Amerson, “supervisors reacted by forcing the female soldier to quit the National Guard.” Neilson reported, “Everybody was yelling at her for an inappropriate relationship, but he was the guy: ‘Hey, good for you. You got the young girl.’ And that was their attitude.”
Wille, meanwhile, has been ostracized. His office asked him to retire, and he even received a death threat for shedding light on the behavior of Amerson and others. Many have been demoted and disciplnied as a result of the case Wille brought into the light. Investigators found Amerson guilty of fraternization, vehicle misuse, recruiting improprieties and dishonesty. He was demoted to private and given an other-than-honorable discharge, although he was not criminally prosecuted or court-martialed. According to The Arizona Republican, his discharge evaluation reads: “Failed every soldier, NCO and officer in the command by using his position for his own pleasure and personal gain.”
Readers: How does this make you feel about accountability among military members? Should Amerson have been arrested and charge for his dealings with the young recruits?