Arizona National Guard Recruiters 'Bum Hunt' Homeless With Paintball Guns, Report Says
Staff Sgt. Chad Wille thought he was doing the right thing three years ago when he went to his supervisor to report a claim that fellow National Guard troops traveling in an Humvee had been seen shooting paintballs at pedestrians in a nearby Phoenix neighborhood. Rather than being rewarded for his integrity, however, Wille was instead subjected to years of harassment by his peers, The Arizona Republic reports.
Wille routinely drove the camouflaged painted military vehicle himself -- and indeed was doing so on the day an angry bicyclist confronted the Arizona Army National Guard recruiter and told him it was Wille's vehicle that was used in the attack. But Wille was away the week of the supposed incident and so reported it to 1st Sgt. Lucas Atwood, his supervisor in the Recruiting and Retention Command, the newspaper says. (The Republic's account of Wille's case is the result of its five-month investigation into his story.)
The newspaper says Wille also asked a colleague if he knew who had the keys to Humvee during the week Wille was away. The co-worker said another recruiter, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Amerson, used the vehicle to go on what others in Wille's unit called "bum hunts."
The Republic reports that an inquiry by Arizona National Guard commanders discovered that Guard members allegedly were involved in numerous criminal and unethical acts while on patrol in north Phoenix, which included assaulting and humiliating homeless people in 2007 and 2008, shooting paintballs at them, or getting them to dance and sing for money.
Witnesses also alleged that Amerson, a former "Recruiter of the Year," and other soldiers engaged in sexual misconduct, recruiting improprieties and cover-ups. Female recruits told investigators that they were ordered to flash their breasts, while homeless women were offered money, food and drink for exposing themselves.
Though Wille's act help to pull back the veil of abuse his colleagues were allegedly heaping on innocent victims, as the investigation progressed, he became a target for blowing the whistle. The Republic reports that he was subjected to a two-year campaign of harassment that included being falsely accused of assaulting a teenage girl and threatened with a bullet to the head, among other reprisals. He was also pressured to resign but refused.
Several investigations eventually led to demotions or reprimands of numerous recruiters with ties to Wille's case, including Amerson, who was found culpable for fraternization, vehicle misuse, recruiting improprieties and dishonesty.
National Guard investigators said commanders failed to hold subordinates accountable for wrongdoing, partly because they also allegedly engaged in unethical behavior, NBC News reports.
Wille told the Republic in a recent interview that he feels betrayed by his colleagues and National Guard leadership.
He was forced to conduct investigations in his defense for two years, he said, and also filed complaints with the Defense Department's inspector general, but got no response.
"They don't try to do the right thing," Wille said of the Guard. "They're too busy looking out for the agency and trying to cover up."
In response to the investigation, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has announced an inquiry into Arizona's military operations, NBC News reports.
In a statement, a spokesman for Brewer said, "She would like the inquiry to begin as quickly as possible so that she is provided credible information with which to judge the conduct of the Arizona National Guard and its leaders."
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David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.
Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.
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