Chuck Hagel (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - Sixty troops have been fired as sexual assault counselors, recruiters or drill instructors after the military investigators found they had committed violations ranging from alcohol-related offenses to child abuse and sexual assault, USA TODAY has learned.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered that the records of recruiters and sexual assault counselors be examined on May 17. That action came in light of the Pentagon's report in May that estimated 26,000 troops had been sexually assaulted in 2012, a 35% increase since 2010, with offenses ranging from groping to rape. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called sexual assault in the military a crisis.
The records of at least 35,000 troops have been screened or are under review, according to the services.
Each of the services appears to have interpreted Hagel's directive differently. The Marines screened recruiters, for example, against a public database, while the Army considered criminal records for sexual assault, child abuse and alcohol-related offenses.
The Army has suspended 55 soldiers, according to figures compiled through mid-July, said George Wright, an Army spokesman. In all, it is looking at 20,000 recruiters, sexual-assault counselors and drill instructors and expects to have completed its screening by Oct. 1. More suspensions could occur as the review continues.
It is unclear whether the suspended soldiers have been discharged, Wright said, or if they can be reassigned to other units.
"We only want the very best to be in these positions of special trust," Wright said. "The steps we are taking are in keeping with our commitment to maintaining the special bonds of trust and confidence between the leader and his or her soldiers."
The Navy disqualified three of 5,125 recruiters it reviewed, and two of 4,739 counselors. It reviewed records of 869 recruit instructors; none of them was disqualified.
"We are committed to this process and routinely screen personnel for any conduct that could warrant decertification," said Tammy O'Rourke, the Navy's sexual assault prevention and response program manager.
The Air Force reported no airmen were disqualified but did not report an overall number. The Marines screened its recruiters against the National Sex Offenders Public website, according to a memo, and found no matches. About 6,000 Marine recruiters were screened.
Several high-profile sex scandals have rocked the military this year. The Air Force relieved the lieutenant colonel in charge of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office following his arrest in May after police said he drunkenly groped a woman outside a bar not far from the Pentagon.
Also in May: The Army announced that it was investigating a sergeant in charge of a battalion's sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood for suspicion of sexual assault. He is suspected of running a small-scale prostitution ring there, according to sources briefed on the case.
Congress summoned the service chiefs to Capitol Hill to explain their response to sexual assault, and a number of measures to address the issue could become law. Among them is a proposal to enhance oversight of commanders who make decisions about prosecution and discipline in sex crimes.