ICYMI: At Hearing, DoD Officials Acknowledge to Senator Warren There is Lack of Adequate Oversight to Prevent Sexual Misconduct in Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps
Warren Opened Investigation into DoD and Department of Education Oversight over JROTC Program Following Alarming Reports of Sexual Misconduct
Warren: “If the military doesn't step up to prevent these kinds of abuses, then it is the military that is endangering our ability to build up our force of the future, and for it to have real credibility. The military screens these instructors, and ultimately, it is your reputation on the line. I know that my colleagues and I have a number of questions about the oversight of this program, and why it failed these students.”
Washington, D.C. – During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) questioned top Department of Defense (DoD) personnel officials on distributing reports of widespread patterns of sexual misconduct by instructors in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program, where they admitted DoD’s lack of adequate oversight to prevent sexual misconduct by instructors and ensure the safety of students.
In response to Senator Warren’s questions, Stephanie Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy, said that “we completely agree that additional oversight is necessary… we also think that we need to take a hard look at our current background investigation process”. Lieutenant General Caroline Miller, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services at the United States Air Force said that “for Junior ROTC.. there's very little oversight”.
Senator Warren’s questioning of these DoD officials is another step in an investigation she opened into widespread accounts of sexual misconduct in the JROTC program. Before the hearing, Senators Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) sent letters to DoD and the Department of Education (ED), which are tasked with shared oversight of the JROTC program, to learn more about current processes to ensure the safety of students in the program and to determine where those processes failed and left students vulnerable to sexual misconduct.
Transcript: To receive testimony on the status of
military recruiting and retention efforts across the Department of Defense
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you Madame Chair. And I'm so glad that Senator Tuberville raised the question of debt forgiveness. I'm sure he's aware that the debt forgiveness package that was designed by the President has disproportionately helped veterans who are struggling with student loan debt because our current benefits do not fully cover the cost of post-high school education for them. And I'm glad to get them any help we can.
So I want to echo my colleague's concerns about the impact of military sexual assault on recruiting and retention. The Department of Defense found that reports of sexual assault went up 13% in 2021, showing that we are clearly going in the wrong direction. But I also want to follow up on an issue raised by Senator Hirono.
One of the key tools that our military has for recruitment is the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. The JROTC program is led by retired members of the military, and it's meant to teach high school students the values of citizenship. Now DoD is currently studying how this program impacts enlistment, as they should. But a previous Army study found that these students are more than twice as likely to enlist.
Unfortunately, in too many cases, it has become also a hunting ground for predators. A recent disturbing investigation by the New York Times found that at least 33 JROTC instructors have been criminally charged with sexual misconduct, which is higher than the rate for civilian school teachers.
Now, Ms. Miller, obviously, if JROTC instructors are sexually assaulting high school students, we have a problem that goes far, far beyond the impact of this behavior on recruitment. But I want to ask, how do you think criminal behavior like this by retired members of the Armed Services reflects on the military?
Stephanie Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy: Senator, thank you for that question. We agree that the reports from the New York Times are concerning, not only in the fact that this is a criminal act, but to the point that you made, that it also reverberates with respect to potential recruitment, and just cast a pall on the JROTC program, which, as you noted, is a program that we're very proud of both as a citizenship development program and as a way to expose youth to the prospect of military service, since many of them have never had that exposure.
We completely agree that additional oversight is necessary. And as General Miller mentioned, the services are actively engaged at looking at their current oversight structures. We also think that we need to take a hard look at our current background investigation process, regardless of whether that individual had a background investigation recently conducted while they were in service, and that we need to look even beyond our traditional background investigation, to see if there's other tools that we need to add to that, such as potentially social media checks to make sure that we get a 360-degree look at those that we are putting in a leadership role to some of our most vulnerable and young Americans.
Senator Warren: So I very much appreciate this and I'm glad that you give a full answer on this. But I'd like to stress another point here. You're talking about background checks, obviously powerfully important before somebody gets out there. But there's also a question about supervision once they're in the field, and a question about how to respond when there's been some kind of concern or allegation raised.
And I want to give you an example that goes directly to that. The New York Times piece tells the story of Dominique Mixon, a young woman who entered the JROTC program because she wanted to join the Air Force. That's why she was there. She was groped and harassed by her instructor, Brad Gibson, who had retired after 24 years of service in the military.
But here's the part that really pushes me on this. She reported the incident to a teacher. Apparently, Mr. Gibson had already been counseled about quote-unquote, borderline behavior, before he stuck his hand up Ms. Mixon's shirt. So this was not the first time that he had harassed someone, but it wasn't the last time either. Ms. Mixon's report went nowhere, and she was pushed out of the program. Mr. Gibson, however, continued to lead the JROTC program. And eight years later, Ms. Mixon received a call that another 16-year-old had filed a report saying that Mr. Gibson was groping her.
Now, General Miller, should the Air Force be protecting someone like Ms. Dixon or someone like Mr. Gibson?
Lieutenant General Caroline Miller, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services, United States Air Force: Thank you, senator, for letting me talk about this. So the first thing is sexual assault, sexual harassment, they are crimes. They are crimes. And they are not tolerable. And I will tell you in the Air Force, we have a very strong preventive program right now. And we're making it more robust, specifically on the IRC.
We, for Junior ROTC, or for any individual that is harassed sexually, or you know, any way that they're not treated with dignity and respect, they need to report it. And they need to report it up and we need to investigate it. So, should the individual in this particular case, he should have been investigated and substantiated, he's removed from that position forever.
And so in there, ma'am, just one more, you talked about oversight. And there, for Junior ROTC, there's so many programs, and there's very little oversight. In the Air Force right now, we're looking at putting Guard and Reserve members into some of those programs to provide additional oversight in that. And then also increase the regional directors that are around the world, around the country right now.
Senator Warren: Well, you know, this is an important point you raise because jurisdiction at the federal level is shared between the military services and the Department of Education. But if the military doesn't step up to prevent these kinds of abuses, then it is the military that is endangering our ability to build up our force of the future, and for it to have real credibility.
The military screens, these instructors, and ultimately, it is your reputation on the line. I know that my colleagues and I have a number of questions about the oversight of this program, and why it failed these students.
Today, we sent letters to the DoD and to the Department of Education to try to learn more. And I look forward to learning what steps each of you will be taking to make sure that the military is not responsible for the sexual assault of high school students.
I see that I'm over on time. But I do want to just follow up with the question about student loan debt. And that is, loan cancellation right now he's helping 43 million Americans who are buried under student loan debt. It is keeping people from starting small businesses from buying homes, from starting families. I just want to ask the question, do any of the witnesses think that ensuring that 43 million Americans keep choking on student loan debt is the best solution to the military's recruitment problems?
Stephanie Miller: Senator, I appreciate that question. We agree that when we are working with potential applicants, I can say that we do look at debt ratio, in terms of what debt they may have, and how they, they may be able to still continue to execute their commitment to paying off that debt under our pay structures, particularly if they're starting as a junior enlisted service member.
So it is something that we do pay attention to. We do have strong programs, as I said before, for training and education, which includes the ability to do additional incentives for loan repayment. What we actually do find on our side is that in many cases, they're actually more interested in looking at what bonuses we offer, because then they have greater flexibility in how they want to use that money, and potentially paying off that debt, or if they want to put it towards another priority. But we do agree that looking at current debt ratio is something that we do pay attention to.
Senator Warren: I think maybe I didn't make my question entirely clear, and that's on me.
But I just really want to emphasize the point, that surely we have not become a country that thinks that the best way to be able to recruit people into the military, is to crush them under a burden of student loan debt, and hope that they will then find their way to the military. That we are people who want to show the best of what the military has to offer and work to make sure that none of our young people are crushed by student loan debt. I hope we are all in agreement on that. I'll take that as a yes. Thank you.
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