The wave of sexual assaults and harassment that the high command has described as a "crisis" for the military has now reached into the Chaplains Corps.
At Fort Bliss, Tex., last week, Maj. Geoffrey Alleyne, a chaplain and 24-year Army veteran, was sentenced by a court-martial jury to six months in jail for repeatedly groping a civilian employee at the West Texas base.
Following the conviction and sentencing the victim in the case went public to charge that her long-standing complaints about Alleyne’s attempts to fondle and kiss her were initially ignored by base officials and other chaplains. "He might have been sentenced and going to jail but I lost," Michelle Ten Eyck told KFOX 14 news in El Paso, Texas.
Ten Eyck said her experience led her to believe that the military justice system is incapable of dealing with the wave of sexual assaults, harassment and unwanted sexual contacts. She said that legal authority in sex abuse cases should be taken out of the chain of command.
Earlier this month lawmakers from both parties in both houses of Congress offered bills that would have transferred a commander’s authority to convene courts martial and refer charges in sexual assault cases to military prosecutors in the Judge Advocate Generals corps. The Senate Armed Services Committee voted against the bill filed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., while the House version, proposed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, was killed when the Rules Committee kept it from going to the House floor.
Ten Eyck told the El Paso television station that military education programs are not enough.
"In Washington, they think that … just retraining people is gonna’ make it better. They need to take all of this out of the military hands," she said.
Alleyne initially was charged with sexual assault, which could have led to a jail term of more than 20 years. His six-month sentence followed on his guilty plea to charges of assault and battery, making a false official statement and conduct unbecoming an officer.
Ten Eyck charged that Alleyne repeatedly found excuses to show up at her office and make advances, even though his office was on the other side of the sprawling base at Fort Bliss, home of the 1st Armored Division.
Ten Eyck said her complaints were taken seriously only after investigators agreed to set up a hidden video camera in her office.
"It showed, the video showed him touching me, touching my breasts, licking my face," Ten Eyck said on KFOX. And he blocked me in my office, I had nowhere to go," Ten Eyck said.
Military officials in Washington and at Fort Bliss said they could not immediately recall a previous case in which a chaplain was charged with sex abuse.
"It's extremely rare that a chaplain is court-martialed. We went back through all of our legal records and can find no instance since Fort Bliss became a force command installation that a chaplain was court-martialed," Fort Bliss spokesman Maj. Joe Buccino told KFOX.
The conviction is devastating for the Chaplains Corps, often seen by the troops as first responders to their needs for counsel and advice on a range of matters, including sexual assault.
"So much of what we do is based on a sacred trust. It's a sad day for the Chaplain Corps when that sacred trust is broken," Lt. Col. Karen Meeker, the head chaplain at Fort Bliss, said in a statement.
Alleyne’s June 19 sentencing came two days before Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno arrived at the post to speak at a graduation ceremony at the Sergeant Majors Academy, and also to spread his message of zero tolerance for sexual assault.
At a news conference, Odierno said of the Alleyne sentencing that "It's important to understand that a problem was identified and action was taken. It doesn't matter what rank they are or what specialty they are in. We are going to take action."
Despite Alleyne’s actions, chaplains can train to assist in cases of sexual assault and can be trusted, Odierno said.
"Is there one bad apple [in the Chaplains Corps]? Apparently, yes," Odierno said."It's like everything in society. It's not 100 percent. We are human beings, but 99.9 percent of our chaplains do the right thing."