Report Finds VING Lawless, Needing Overhaul

Members of the V.I. National Guard parade through Christiansted.
Members of the V.I. National Guard parade through Christiansted on Veterans Day 2018.

An 82-page report recently submitted to Government House by the National Guard Bureau offers troubling insights into the operations of the Virgin Islands National Guard, calling the Guard lawless and undisciplined.

That report, compiled by the National Guard Bureau of Complex Investigations, was requested by a former top official of the VING. Investigators said the Guard operates without proper oversight and listed key positions in the leadership ranks that have gone unfilled.

The report cites instances of misconduct where the NGB team say crimes may have taken place. Evidence of that activity appeared May 2 when a VING official was convicted in District Court of 48 counts of wire fraud.

The report contains instances of sexual assault and harassment taking place in an organization where those in command show no familiarity with laws and regulations forbidding them.

It questions one out of five V.I. National Guardsmen and women qualification for security clearances, which are required to serve in the military. Dozens of Guard members are cited as non-U.S. citizens.

The report also points to the consequences of having a dysfunctional local militia. In 2015 NGB suspended the VING aviation division and removed aircraft left rusty by poor maintenance.

Brigadier General Deborah Howell (File photo)
Brigadier General Deborah Howell (File photo)

Included in the introductory section of the VI1601 Final Report to the bureau is an explanation about why the probe began. Former Adjutant General Deborah Howell made the request after she encountered reports of sexual misconduct by VING recruiters towards young female recruits.

When Howell’s own inquiry into the matter met with resistance, she asked NGB for help. A team from the investigations bureau traveled to the Virgin Islands and performed an assessment from Aug. 18 to Dec. 15, 2016.

A Command Climate Survey was also conducted from Sept. 10 to Oct. 8, 2016.

Highlighted in the final report were 14 areas of concern, some calling for immediate action. The NGB also took itself to task in one recommendation, saying it has fallen short on providing oversight for VING.

Some details leading to those recommendations have been redacted from the version of the report released to the public.

Government House spokesman Richard Motta said the version handed over to the VING brass was unredacted. However Motta was not forthcoming when asked if Gov. Albert Bryan had seen the full version.

“The Virgin Islands National Guard has the full report, which means Government House is privy to information contained in the unredacted report,” Motta said.

Some of the immediate actions recommended in the final report include replacement of personnel in the VING Recruiting and Retention Unit and suspension of training and operations until a 100 percent inventory is conducted.

The report also calls for VING command to institute a military code of justice and create a system of coordination by which civilians with allegations of misconduct by VING personnel can be reported to local law enforcement.

The report recommended rotating in National Guard personnel from off-island to fill vacancies and ensure efficient operations and rotating VING personnel out to train and gain expertise in off-island settings, and make sure all VING commanders are trained in Equal Employment Opportunity law and work towards eliminating sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Motta said as of Monday, the Virgin Islands National Guard has a new adjutant general on the job. Col. Kodjo Knox-Limbacker, a Virgin Islander who served in the Pentagon before returning to St. Croix, was brought in by NGB to provide oversight over the local militia and was named to the post two months ago by Bryan. One of Limbacker’s primary tasks will be to implement the recommendations made in the final report, the Government House spokesman said.