WASHINGTON — The Navy has disqualified 151 sailors serving as sexual assault counselors, instructors and recruiters — up from just five last year — after a review found that most of them lacked proper training, USA TODAY has learned.
The services have been scrubbing the ranks of troops serving in "positions of trust" for potential predators and poor performers since May. That's when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the military to stand down to review its policies and personnel involved in combating the Pentagon's sexual assault crisis.
The review resulted in the Army suspending 588 soldiers who served as counselors, recruiters and drill instructors for offenses ranging from reckless driving to sexual assault. The Army, which reviewed 20,000 soldiers, is seeking to discharge 79 of them. The Navy initially had suspended five sailors among the 10,000 personnel it reviewed. That review was expanded to about 20,000 and resulted in the suspension of 151, Lt. Cdr. Chris Servello, a Navy spokesman, said Wednesday.
The "vast majority" of the 151 didn't receive the proper training or lacked certifications for duties involving sexual assault prevention and response, Servello said. Others had "issues" that made them inappropriate choices for the jobs, although nature of those problems was not clear Wednesday morning, Sevello said. Some will receive the training and return to their posts; others will be reassigned.
It is also unclear how many sailors, if any, the Navy will seek to discharge from the service as a result of the review, Servello said.
The review and the suspensions reflect the priority the Navy has attached to fighting sexual assault and harassment in its ranks, said Cdr. Ryan Perry, a spokesman. The B-minus student is no longer good enough for those posts, he said. "We want the best and brightest" for these positions.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat who has won approval for measures to reform prosecution of military sex crimes and protection for victims, praised the Navy for rooting out potential problem sailors.
"While these numbers are a comfort to no one, the Navy's review and disqualifications of these sailors shows continued progress in our efforts to curb sexual assault in the military, and I'm encouraged by the Navy's more thorough response to my push for a full review of all individuals involved in sexual assault response and prevention programs," McCaskill said in a statement.
Late Tuesday, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., sent a letter to Hagel calling on him to direct the services to follow the Army's lead in screening troops involved in sexual assault response and in the training of young recruits. Rear Adm. John Kirby, Hagel's spokesman, said the secretary recently had discussed the Army's approach to reviewing the records of its soldiers with leaders from the other services.
That discussion could result in the services revising the number of troops disqualified for positions of trust and may explain the Navy's increase. The Air Force, which previously had not suspended any airmen from positions of trust, reported Tuesday that two had been disqualified. The Marine Corps, after its review last summer, disqualified no one.
Speier, on Wednesday, questioned Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos on how the Marines could find nobody who didn't qualify.
"I find that remarkable particularly since every other service has had at least a few," she said.
Amos agreed to review the Marines' screening process. He also said that Marine recruiters and sexual assault counselors are thoroughly vetted.