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May 252013
 

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WEST POINT, N.Y.) — Speaking at the commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told cadets that sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military are a “profound betrayal” and charged them with the responsibility to stamp out the sexual assault problem plaguing the military.

“You will need to not just deal with these debilitating, insidious and destructive forces but rather you must be the generation of leaders that stops it.  This will require your complete commitment to building a culture of respect and dignity for every member of the military and society,” Hagel said as he delivered the commencement address at West Point. “Sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military are a profound betrayal, a profound betrayal of sacred oaths and sacred trusts.  This scourge must be stamped out.”

“We are all accountable and responsible for ensuring that this happens.  We cannot fail the Army or America.  We cannot fail each other, and we cannot fail the men and women that we lead,” he said.

Hagel’s remarks at the esteemed military academy came during the same week as a U.S. Army sergeant was accused of secretly taking dozens of photos and videotaping naked female West Point cadets over five years.

President Obama addressed the issue of sexual assault in his speech at the commencement ceremonies for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Friday, telling the graduates that there is “no place” for sexual assaults in the military.

“We must acknowledge that even here, even in our military, we’ve seen how the misconduct of some can have effects that ripple far and wide,” Obama said at the Naval Academy commencement ceremony Friday. “Those who commit sexual assault are not only committing a crime, they threaten the trust and discipline that make our military strong.  That’s why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they’ve got no place in the greatest military on Earth.”

Over the past month, the military has dealt with a number of sexual assault scandals, causing military leaders and the president to speak out against the problem.

Earlier this month, the lieutenant colonel in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was arrested for alleged sexual battery, and the Army  announced that the coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, was under investigation “for pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.”

The Pentagon reported this month that 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2012, a 37 percent increase since last year.

The figure, coupled with the recent sexual assault cases involving those charged with leading programs to prevent such incidents, led Hagel to order the retraining, re-credentialing and re-screening of all sexual assault prevention coordinators and military recruiters.

Several members of Congress have proposed legislation aiming to stop the sexual assaults occurring in the military.

Earlier this month, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill which would take the prosecution of sexual assaults in the military out of the chain of command, preventing commanders from handling the cases of their subordinates.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

May 232013
 

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WEST POINT, N.Y.) — A sergeant first class is accused of photographing and videotaping female cadets by planting hidden cameras in the bathroom and showers at West Point.

Sergeant Michael McClendon is under investigation by the Army after being accused of taking dozens of naked photos and videos of female cadets over a nearly five-year period. 

He has been removed from duty Thursday morning and was sent to Ft. Drum in upstate New York as the investigation continued.

McClendon lived and worked with cadets at West Point. In fact, his job description says he was there to coach and train them on leadership and responsibility.

“I think this behavior absolutely damages the reputation of West Point,” said Anu Bhagwati with the Service Women’s Action Network. “I mean, West Point is considered the elite academy.”

“They’re serious charges but they really scratch the surface of what’s happening at West Point, what’s happening in all the other academies,” Bhagwati continued.

A pentagon report released this spring estimated that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year alone.

Last month Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski, who was in charge of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention Program, was arrested and charged with fondling a woman in a suburban Washington, D.C. parking lot.

 

 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jan 302013
 

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The Pentagon’s decision to allow women into combat roles could still exclude them from certain jobs, Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, has told USA Today.

Amos says the Marines won’t lower physical standards for certain specialties, insisting his branch of the service “can’t make adjustments on what’s required on the battlefield.”

The general maintained that if only a small number of women qualify for certain jobs, then the Marines will keep those positions exclusive to men.

However, Amos believes “Those will be few and far between.”  Currently, there are 30 combat roles in the Marines that aren’t open to women in the service.

In reversing a ban last week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said women should be eligible for all fields, including infantry, tanks, artillery and other combat arms, although the entire process could take years to complete.

Whatever fields remain closed to women will ultimately be up to whoever is the new defense secretary since Panetta is retiring soon.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Jan 242013
 

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Wednesday’s announcement that women will be allowed to serve in combat was hardly the first time the subject has come up.

When it cropped up during the Clinton administration, it drew opposition from the likes of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who offered a now-infamous medical assessment of why it was a bad idea to let them fight.

“Females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections, and they don’t have upper body strength,” The New York Times quoted Gingrich as saying in early 1995.  Men, on the other hand, ”are basically little piglets; you drop them in the ditch, they roll around in it.”

More recently, Rick Santorum caused a minor controversy by bringing “emotions” into it.

“I do have concerns about women in front line combat.  I think that could be a very compromising situation where, where people naturally, you know, may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved,” he told CNN in February 2012, in the heat of the GOP presidential primary.

He later clarified.

“I was talking about men’s emotional issues; not women,” Santorum told ABC soon after.  “I mean, there’s a lot of issues.  That’s just one of them.”

Opponents of women serving unrestricted have always risked offending their political adversaries, regardless of whether their words blow up into controversy.

“What I think was most troubling to us was less the comments of pundits and more the policy in place,” said one attorney who has pressed the Pentagon on female service, saying the combat-service ban sent a “message that … women were somehow less than” male soldiers.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Nov 162012
 

ABC News(NEW YORK) — When 10-year-old Noah Ricafrente and his 8-year-old brother, Elijah, got tickets to the Eastern Carolina University football game with the rest of their Pop Warner football team, it was a big deal.

When the two brothers from Cherry Point, N.C., got to go onto the field during halftime for a contest to try out their football skills, it was an even bigger deal.

When their father, Josh Ricafrente, a gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, walked out onto the stadium’s football field, it was the surprise of their lives.  

Ricafrente, a 12-year service veteran, had been deployed in Afghanistan for the past five months, missing his sons’ entire football season playing for the local Craven Bearcats.  When he heard from his wife, Jenie, that his sons would be going to Eastern Carolina’s Nov. 3 game with their team, he got an idea.

“I was talking to my wife and said it’d be cool if I could surprise the kids at the ECU game,” Ricafrente told ABCNews.com today.

In a small-world connection, one of the boys’ Pop Warner coaches knew someone at the university and, just like that, Ricafrente’s dream turned into reality.

“My wife did all of the communicating until I got back, and then they just told me where I needed to be,” he said.  “I just thought it was going to be fun to do, but ECU made it reality.”

Noah, who was 9-months-old when his father deployed the first time, and Elijah, who wasn’t even born then, thought their dad would be returning home next month, in time for the holidays.

Instead, they watched their dad on the stadium’s big screen in a taped message right before the halftime contest began and then saw him ”live” just moments after.

“You can see Noah’s face,” Ricafrente said, referring to the video of the moment that was posted on Welcomehomeblog.com and has quickly gone viral.  “He was surprised, excited, overwhelmed.”

“Everybody started crying,” he said of the crowd in the stands. “Everybody screamed, and I heard in the background they were chanting USA, and I thought that was pretty cool.”

Ricafrente said his sons were happy to have their dad back home, but none of them can believe the attention they’ve received since the surprise homecoming.

“Even at school people come up to them to say that they saw it and it was cool, and they’re glad their dad is back,” Ricafrente said. “I think it’s amazing.  That’s something they’ll never forget.”

Ricafrente said he has not yet received any indication that he’ll be deployed a third time but, as a Marine, he stands ready.

“We’re U.S. military so whenever we need to, we do what we do,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio