Today, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, held a hearing to examine troubling allegations that dozens of Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) instructors have misused their positions of authority to abuse or exploit students under their supervision.
Ahead of the hearing, the Subcommittee released a new memo showing that sexual abuse, harassment, and other sexual misconduct within JROTC programs across the military services over the last five years was higher than previously reported.
"Many of the young men and women who join JROTC do so with the noblest aspirations of serving our country, either in military or civilian service. And so when they don their military uniforms--even as high school students--they are entitled to such protections as we would wish for our own sons and daughters," said Chairman Lynch in his opening statement. "As the Department of Defense and Congress continue to address our current readiness and recruitment challenges, it is vital that we restore and maintain the public's faith in military service. We can begin by demonstrating to those who are eager to serve our country that we do not take their health and safety lightly."
"We have the greatest military in the world, primarily because of the men and women who serve. These men and women often grow up wanting to serve their country and join the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in high school or the Reserve Officer Training Corps in college to prepare. Unfortunately, recent reporting regarding sexual abuse and instructor misconduct is very concerning. In total, over the past five years, there have been 60 allegations of sexual misconduct against JROTC instructors with 58 substantiated. While those 58 received an initial suspension of certification, more must be done to protect our young men and women who wish to serve in uniform," said Ranking Member Glenn Grothman in his opening statement.
The Subcommittee heard testimony from Thomas A. Constable, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Department of Defense; Yvette K. Bourcicot, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Department of the Army; Alex Wagner, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Department of the Air Force; and Robert D. Hogue, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Department of the Navy.
Members expressed bipartisan outrage that many JROTC instructors have misused their positions of authority to sexually abuse and harass cadets and that DOD and the military services have failed to conduct adequate oversight of the JROTC program.
During her questioning, Rep. Jackie Speier stated, "I'm not going to sugarcoat this: this is a scandal, and it's one that each and every one of you need to take ownership of." She continued, "When you saw these cases coming up in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 21, why didn't someone raise the alarm that we have a huge problem? These are half a million kids, and we spend a half a billion dollars, and to somehow suggest that, "well, it's up to the schools, and we've got to let local law enforcement handle this,'--that's frankly, B.S., and I think there needs to be an absolute, comprehensive review."
During his questioning, Rep. Pat Fallon spoke about the positive impact of ROTC in his life, and argued that, "it's so terribly unfortunate that this incredible program has been besmirched by predators, and make no mistake, sexual harassment and abuse as we all know has no place in our military especially in Junior ROTC. And the scum who harmed these youth deserve nothing but the full force of the law and justice." Rep. Fallon also argued that, "for the sake of student safety and military recruitment, both of which are matters of national security, I'm calling for greater oversight [and] transparency within the Junior ROTC program."
During her questioning, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz stated, "It is really troubling that so many bad actors appear to have slipped through the JROTC instructor vetting process." She further argued, "I don't understand why the Department of Defense and military services have not used this opportunity to make sure that they have processes and procedures that ensure that we don't have predators who are supervising our young people in the JROTC program." She concluded by calling the witnesses to action stating, "This is shocking. I don't understand how this has not been treated with urgency, and you have work to do."
DOD and the military services agreed that greater oversight and accountability of the JROTC program is necessary.
During her testimony, Ms. Bourcicot stated, "JROTC instructor mistreatment of cadets is particularly egregious because of the faith and confidence that the Army, parents, students, and the nation place in those teachers and we will not tolerate it." She later told Chairwoman Maloney, "We understand how important and valuable our oversight function is, and we are working to do better."
In his opening statement, Mr. Wagner testified: "The JROTC instructor corps represents the Department of Defense and they are expected to be role models in our partner schools, trusted adults and mentors. We have a special obligation to ensure that they safeguard the lives of the young men and women entrusted to their care." Mr. Wagner further testified: "Given the incidence of misconduct identified in our own review, it is clear the Department of the Air Force must do more to prevent this type of misconduct from occurring."
Mr. Hogue similarly testified: "We welcome additional oversight and are committed to improving policies and processes to partner more closely with the host schools to ensure our cadets are safe."
Witnesses described some of the steps they are taking to address allegations of instructor misconduct, but Subcommittee Members expressed disappointment with the Department's perceived lack of urgency.
In his opening statement, Mr. Constable testified that DOD has been "coordinating closely with the military departments to conduct a complete review of governing policies" and has "found areas where we can improve and standardize policy and procedures across the services in order to prevent sexual harassment and assault to hold personnel appropriately accountable when there is misconduct or abuse." Mr. Constable subsequently testified that DOD and the military services intend to implement some of these changes by the end of the calendar year.
In response to a question by Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, Mr. Wagner testified that the Air Force has "the wrong balance" when it comes to gender diversity among its JROTC instructors and cadets, pointing out that while 40% of cadets are female, 92% of its instructors are male. He further testified that the Air Force is working to address this imbalance and that "aligning that gender disparity better will have a significant impact on this program." Rep. Houlahan encouraged Mr. Constable and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to elevate that initiative as a "best practice" across the military services.
Rep. Sylvia Garcia expressed disappointment with the Department and military services' response to the New York Times' investigation, and said she is "almost flabbergasted at the lack of real action coming from the Department of Defense and all the military branches." Ranking Member Glenn Grothman similarly expressed his concern that "there was a lack of sense of urgency" within DOD to address this problem.