Minot case ground zero for military gender wars
Airman accused of hitting on women faces worse punishment than Bergdahl
He is an award-winning combat photographer who stands accused of trying to pick up women in the public affairs office at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, and for that prosecutors wanted to put him in prison for 130 years.
The prosecutorial zeal was so great that an Air Force officer appointed to investigate the case said the piled-up charges were combined to “artificially exaggerate the criminality of the accused,” who often was simply “socially maladroit and crass.”
This is a glimpse into the new U.S. Armed Forces and its gender wars. It is a slice of military life stemming from the Pentagon’s order in 2013 to erase all sexual harassment and, to enforce it, staff the ranks with an advocacy bureaucracy to empower victims and make sure complaints are filed.
The accused is Tech. Sgt. Aaron D. Allmon II. The 39-year-old arrived at Minot, a nuclear arsenal on the northern edge of the continental United States, to teach others as one of the Air Force’s best at capturing war in photographs.
What he witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan stalked him all the way to North Dakota, along with diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol abuse. He carries prescription drugs to fight off nightmares and excruciating back pain. His supporters say the stigma of being an accused sexual harasser is so deep-seated that Minot top brass isolated him and deliberately tried to block medical care.
Sgt. Allmon, who denies wrongdoing, was scheduled to go on trial late last week. The setting was to be a general court-martial, the military’s most severe, a felony arena. He is charged with unwanted sexual contact with four women: three Air Force and one civilian. The case does not involve rape or what the public might consider overt sexual assault or what could be defined as fondling.
A Washington Times examination shows that, over a 14-month span, the women’s accusations, in total, amount to three kisses and six touches, plus a series of reported inappropriate comments of a sexual nature. If the married Sgt. Allmon did what the women said, he was tastelessly hitting on them.
Sgt. Allmon’s sister, Lisa A. Roper, does not believe the women. The business executive in San Antonio, Texas, is her brother’s fiercest defender. She estimates she will spend $200,000 on his legal defense, which includes a former sheriff’s deputy as investigator, a civilian lawyer and a former Army judge advocate who took the case pro bono. Sgt. Allmon is also represented by an Air Force judge advocate.
“I want you to understand how women can destroy a man,” said Ms. Roper. “It was out and out vindictiveness set up to destroy a man who didn’t do what they wanted. A group of young women who are brand new in the military and because they didn’t get their way they set out to destroy a man of 19 years in the Air Force.”
Maj. Jamie Humphries, a Minot public affairs officer, said the Air Force does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment or assault of any kind in our service is unacceptable and simply not tolerated,” he said. “I’ve never been in a USAF unit stateside or deployed where it was accepted. Does it happen? Sure. Is it unacceptable? Absolutely. When parents/ guardians send their loved ones off to Basic Military Training, they expect guys like me will care for them, guide them and mentor them to the best of my ability. That’s my No. 1 job, and the officers I know take that responsibility very seriously.”
The Times’ examination produced a picture of the Minot public affairs office that was at times disorganized and needed discipline.
The Times viewed a homemade video of staff members moving furniture in December last year. The “F” word was thrown around freely. Faces were made into the camera. A man referred to a female service member as a “donkey.” An enlisted man made fun of Sgt. Allmon’s ailments by shaking a bottle of pills like a rattle.
‘Artificially exaggerate the criminality’
As Sgt. Allmon was entering his second year at Minot in May 2013, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel declared war on sexual abuse in the ranks. He elevated the offense as a threat to national security. He put every command on notice that his goal was to eliminate the offense. The gender wars, if not starting that day, were entering an escalation.
“Sexual assault is a despicable crime and one of the most serious challenges facing this department,” Mr. Hagel told reporters. “It’s a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people and the health, reputation and trust of this institution. … This department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission.” Next, he warned the accused. “We need cultural change where every service member is treated with dignity and respect, where all allegations of inappropriate behavior are treated with seriousness, where victims’ privacy is protected, where bystanders are motivated to intervene, and where offenders know that they will be held accountable by strong and effective systems of justice,” he said.
Defense attorneys said at the time that remarks such as Mr. Hagel’s, and similar statements from commanders, would make it difficult to impanel military jurors who did not think it their mission to convict people.
Sgt. Allmon is now facing that military justice system.
The Times investigated the Allmon case not to assess guilt or innocence. The trial promises to be a series of “he said, she said.” (Sgt. Allmon denies saying many of the things attributed to him.) The Times wanted to examine one major battle, in a North Dakota courtroom, in the broader global war Mr. Hagel announced more than two years ago.
What strikes Sgt. Allmon’s supporters from the start is the fervor with which Air Force Office of Special Investigations and prosecutors went after him.
When the Air Force convened a pretrial hearing, known as an Article 32, in December, the government had stacked so many charges against the enlisted man that, if convicted, he faced over a century in prison.
“I cannot fathom how this got to the level this got to,” Ms. Roper said.
On Sgt. Allmon’s legal team is Jeffrey Addicott, a former Army judge advocate who is now a law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. The lead civilian defender is Virginia Hermosa, who practices law in Austin and has served as a prosecutor for the Texas attorney general.
Mr. Addicott is also director of the school’s Center for Terrorism Law from which he goes to bat for service members, pro bono, who he believes are treated unfairly by the military justice system.
In the Allmon case, he expresses astonishment that the Air Force is trying him in a felony court instead of seeking other administrative or lesser judicial options. As a comparison, he notes that the hearing officer in the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is charged with the serious offense of desertion for abandoning his buddies on the battlefield, recommended a special courtmartial, the lowest level, for misdemeanors.
“The full weight of the military chain of command has come down on Aaron because the chain of command has abandoned justice and elected expediency,” Mr. Addicott said.
“Because of the hypersensitivity associated with real sexual assault cases, the Air Force in particular has overreacted against Aaron in a manner that is absolutely an injustice but is also degrading the esprit de corps of unit cohesion all across the military. Even assuming all the charges are true, which they are not, this conduct as charged would warrant nonjudicial punishment, not the highest level of action at a general court-martial where Aaron could lose all his retirement benefits and go to jail.”
Mr. Addicott’s view has an ally, of sorts, in Lt. Col. Brendon K. Tukey, the investigative officer who presided over the Article 32 pretrial hearing where the four accusers testified. Sgt. Allmon did not testify, nor did he put up a defense.
Col. Tukey is a veteran of the military’s gender wars. He was the hearing officer in 2014 for a sexual assault case at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The woman testified that she was asleep in the male’s cadet’s room and woke up to find him raping her.
“If there was some other disposition short of court-martial, could you support it?” Col. Tukey asked the woman, according to The Gazette newspaper. “Sure,” she said. The Air Force declined to say what action Col. Tukey recommended. In the end, the criminal charges were dismissed against the male cadet, who faced administrative actions that the Air Force also refused to disclose.
For Sgt. Allmon, Col. Tukey scolded the prosecution in his post-hearing recommendation.
“Given the sheer volume of charges in this case, and the apparent tendency of that volume to artificially exaggerate the criminality of the accused, it is entirely possible that … the trial judge will simply dismiss the offending specifications,” he wrote.
He also wrote, “The charging scheme exaggerates the criminality of the accused (as charged the accused faces 20 specifications carrying a maximum punishment including 130 years of confinement) for no real purpose.”
“In many of the individual specifications,” he wrote, “it could be argued that the accused was not so much motivated by sex or a desire to humiliate or degrade as simply being socially maladroit and crass.”
Still, he concluded, “Having heard the witnesses and examined the evidence presented at the Article 32 investigation, I conclude that generally speaking, probable cause exists to believe that Sgt. Allmon engaged in the conduct in the charges.”
Writing about one of the women, who said Sgt. Allmon moved her shorts up to look at her tattoo and touched her back, Col. Tukey wrote, “As with the other victim witnesses, I found her testimony generally credible and found no motive on her part to fabricate her allegations.”
Though Col. Tukey criticized the prosecution, he recommended a remedial way to help win a conviction at trial.
He condensed and rewrote the charge and then recommended the highest courtmartial possible to what the military calls the convening authority. In this case, it is Maj. Gen. Richard Clark, the 8th Air Force commander. Sgt. Allmon faces a maximum penalty if convicted of 15 years in prison, loss of all retirement benefits, reduction to the lowest enlisted rank and a dishonorable discharge.
Mr. Addicott, Sgt. Allmon’s legal adviser, said criticizing the case, but then pushing for the highest court-martial, shows the grip that sexual abuse accusations exert on the military judicial system.
“The role the Article 32 officer is to make objective findings and recommendations to the convening authority putting aside all the inevitable ‘noise’ associated with any given criminal charge,” he said. “Sadly, he succumbed to the noise, which in this case involves the shrill screams of expediency. If nothing else, even a cursory review of the 32 officer’s report demonstrates how deep the insidiousness of political correctness has penetrated our military and its justice system.”
Tech. Sgt. Aaron D. Allmon II, who faces a court-martial Monday, could be sentenced to 130 years in prison.