In a press release Monday morning, Wisconsin National Guard Major General Don Dunbar said that he and his team were in the process of reviewing a report about sexual assault in the Guard. By this afternoon, Dunbar — Wisconsin’s top commander of the National Guard— had announced his resignation.
The report was completed by the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations, and was prompted by at least six instances of assault and harassment of women at the Truax Air Base in Madison. Those were reported by Master Sergeant Jay Ellis to Senator Tammy Baldwin last November.
Over the past six months, the Office of Complex Investigations canvassed about 1,600 Wisconsin National Guard personnel, conducted 78 in-depth interviews, and visited 10 military installations in Wisconsin.
Today, Senator Baldwin stated in a press release that the investigation’s findings showed that the “failure of leadership, wrongdoing, and accountability…demands change at the Wisconsin National Guard.”
Ellis says that change will ideally address a toxic and “oppressive” environment.
“I really hope that, whatever the report says, that it hopefully causes some changes that are good so that moving forward in the future people don’t have to operate in that kind of environment,” Ellis says.
Ellis learned last week that he had won an appeal of a medical discharge from the Guard that would have stopped his retirement and benefits. And while Ellis is not familiar with any of the twenty-one recommendations offered by the Office of Complex Investigations, he thinks any change should come at the systemic level, as opposed to targeting individuals.
“Change is difficult. Culture change is difficult, so I don’t know [what will happen], but I’m definitely hopeful that that is what happens because that was the whole reason I came forward in the first place,” says Ellis.
This afternoon, Governor Tony Evers shared in a press release that he had asked for and accepted Major General Dunbar’s resignation, which will take effect at the end of this year.
Ellis says he was “shocked” to learn of that resignation.
“I didn’t think that that was going to happen. The endgame for me was not this — it was change in general. For this to happen, it was very unexpected, and on top of that, I hope it’s the beginning of some serious change,” Ellis says.
A report from the U.S. Defense Department’s annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimated that there were over 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact” in the 2018 fiscal year.
Colonel Don Christensen is the former Chief Prosecutor of the Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders, a national organization that works to end rape and sexual assault in the military. He says the military has struggled with sexual assault for years.
“Decades, realistically. Over 6 percent of women [in the military] are sexually assaulted every year. Sexual harassment rates are through the roof; about 25 percent of women are sexually harassed in a year. At the same time, prosecutions are rare, convictions are even rarer,” Christensen says. “So, we estimate there are about 20,000 sex assault victims in the military every year, and yet there’s only about 100 convictions, so the military’s really struggled to be able to get an answer to how do you drive down sex assault rates, and also hold people accountable.”
Before Governor Evers announced Dunbar’s resignation, the Major General noted the Wisconsin National Guard intended to implement all of the Office of Complex Investigations’ recommendations.
A spokesperson for the Wisconsin National Guard declined to provide a statement regarding Dunbar’s impending resignation.
Brigadier General Gary Ebben will serve as interim adjutant general until a permanent successor is selected.
Today, Governor Evers also signed an executive order requiring the Wisconsin National Guard submit a corrective action plan within 60 days showing how it will implement each of the 21 recommendations from the OCI report.