- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

WASHINGTON (AP) - Sexual misconduct and harassment allegations against senior Army leaders increased this year and more were substantiated than in 2015, according to a closely held report by the Army Inspector General.

The memo obtained by The Associated Press also said the most frequent charge lodged against senior officers on active duty, in the National Guard, Reserves and senior executive service in the past budget year was reprisal, with nearly 50 such allegations as of Sept. 30.

The total number of cases is small, but they represent some of the more serious misconduct concerns faced by the military. And they underscore the fact that transgressions are occurring in the higher ranks, not rooted simply in the younger enlisted force.

Sexual misconduct - which includes assault, harassment and improper affairs - and professional reprisals or retaliation have long been identified by the Pentagon as thorny problems with no easy solutions. The Army and the other military services have beefed up training and education across the military and civilian force and have developed a number of new programs aimed at stemming the problems and getting more victims to come forward and seek aid or treatment.

Whether the increase in allegations suggests a growing problem or just that victims are more willing to step forward isn’t clear.

The latest Army memo, however, noted that reprisal is the “number one allegation” that the inspector general’s office investigates and that a growing percentage of the cases are substantiated. Some 10 percent of the reprisal allegations were substantiated in 2016, “a significant increase” from prior years, it said.

“This is very concerning,” said the memo sent last month to top Army leaders. “The burden is on you to clearly explain and justify any unfavorable action you take against a soldier or civilian employee.”

The report was aimed at identifying both positive and negative trends in misconduct cases across the Army leadership. It focused on charges made against officers who hold the rank of one- to four-star general, senior civilian executives and colonels who have been approved for promotion to brigadier general.

It said there were seven allegations of sexual misconduct substantiated in the last fiscal year, compared to two cases in 2015.

Most of this year’s cases involved charges against senior Army National Guard officials. There were eight allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment against National Guard members, four of them substantiated. In the regular Army, there were three allegations of sexual misconduct. The number substantiated was not provided.

“These types of cases have a significant negative impact on the Army and its image,” said the report. “Please be careful to ensure that your behavior does not create any perception of an improper relationship, as even a perception can adversely impact the environment of your organization.”

The good news, the report, said, is that the number of overall charges against senior officials dipped, and the number of those who had at least one charge substantiated against them decreased from 39 in 2015 to 30 this year. Travel violations and ethical misconduct, which includes inappropriate political activities or endorsements, both declined.

The report said that while it is difficult to document, a program of training and briefings for senior officials “has helped leaders avoid common pitfalls and eliminate confusion regarding policies and regulations.”

Army Lt. Gen. Gary Cheek, director of the Army staff, said in an interview earlier this fall that he believes the service has a good track record with the training that is given to general officers as well as the enlisted corps.

Cheek, who spoke to The Associated Press before the memo came out, said many senior Army leaders have been deployed frequently and are under a lot of pressure.

“If anything, as we look inward, are we missing things as we take care of our senior leaders, in terms of their mental well-being, their physical well-being,” he added. “They’re very, very dedicated, but at the same time they may be, in an unintended way, putting themselves at risk or are vulnerable to making mistakes.”

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