WASHINGTON — The Army’s top officer acknowledged on Thursday that his service is failing in its effort to stop sexual assaults, as he and the nation’s other top defense leaders were summoned to the White House to discuss the militarywide problem.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, issued a public message to all soldiers in which he said the “bedrock of trust” between soldiers and their leaders has been violated by a recent string of misconduct cases.
He said the Army demonstrated competence and courage through nearly 12 years of war. “Today, however, the Army is failing in its efforts to combat sexual assault and sexual harassment,” he wrote.
“It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission,” he said.
“We are entrusted with ensuring the health and welfare of America’s sons and daughters,” he added. “There are no bystanders in this effort. Our soldiers, their families and the American people are counting on us to lead the way in solving this problem within our ranks.”
President Barack Obama planned to meet Thursday afternoon with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the civilian and military leaders of each service and the military’s senior enlisted advisers to discuss the issue, the Pentagon announced. Vice President Joe Biden also was attending.
Allegations of sexual assault in the military have triggered outrage from local commanders to Capitol Hill and the Oval Office. Yet there seem to be few clear solutions beyond improved training and possible adjustments in how the military prosecutes such crimes. Changing the culture of a male-dominated, change-resistant military that for years has tolerated sexism and sexist behavior is proving to be a challenging task.
“We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said Wednesday.