When Gov. Bill Walker announced Friday that retired U.S. Army Col. Laurie Hummel is his pick for heading the troubled Alaska National Guard, he admitted her to an exclusive club of women who lead state military forces.
Only three women head U.S. state National Guard operations: Maryland’s Linda Singh, the state’s first woman and first African-American in the role; Ohio’s Deborah Ashenhurst; and Hummel. She joins the female investigator appointed by Walker to look into the Guard’s alleged issues. There are about 250 National Guard members in Juneau.
Hummel replaces acting Adjutant General and Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges. Bridges stepped into the role after former Gov. Sean Parnell asked for then-Adjutant General Thomas Katkus’ resignation following allegations that a culture of sexual assault and coverups existed in the Guard.
Hummel is Alaska’s first female adjutant general. According to Department of Administration documents, Alaska has had 12 adjutants general before Hummel, the longest-serving of whom was C.F. “Nick” Necrason, who led the Alaska Guard from 1967 to 1971 and again from 1975 to 1983. While Hummel may be a member of a small club, she said her leadership will be marked by no membership whatsoever.
“There will be no ol’ boys network, there will be no ol’ girls network,” she said during the governor’s announcement of her appointment in Anchorage. “There will be a network of people who are dedicated to achieving the vision of the commissioner and the vision of the governor and moving forward to make sure we have safety and stability for all Alaskans.”
Walker said during his announcement that he had many choices for the position but decided to hire in-state and believes he made the best possible selection to help “turn a page for the Alaska National Guard.”
Hummel said she’s read the executive summary of the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations report on the alleged Alaska Guard incidents. It was released to the public by Parnell last year. She said she’s “looking to restore a climate of mutual trust and respect” and will conduct a “top-down, bottom-up review of priorities ... policies and procedures” and “determine what needs to be changed” to create a “moral and ethical climate that is worthy of our membership as military members.”
“Changing culture is a slow process, but it starts with making sure that there’s one set of standards, one set of rules that everyone obeys, no matter where they are in the chain of command,” Hummel said. “It also necessitates transparency and communication, and the higher up you are in the leadership, the less you need to talk and the more you need to listen and hopefully the people in the Guard will come to trust their leadership and once that happens all good things will be possible.”
This isn’t Hummel’s first go at public office. She ran as a Democrat against incumbent Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, in 2014 to represent House District 15 and lost by a mere 213 votes. She retired from the Army in 2012 after 34 years in service.
As adjutant general, Hummel is also the commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Walker appointed retired U.S. Air Force Col. Bob Doehl deputy commissioner of the department.
Now that new Guard leadership is put in place, Walker said he will begin taking more charge in the organization. Walker said he met with Bridges on Thursday in Juneau to talk.
“(Bridges) has sort of stepped into the fold at the time we needed someone to step in,” Walker said. “As far as his future, that is a personnel matter that we probably won’t discuss at this time ... At this point he’s still a member of the Guard.”
Earlier this month, Walker announced his appointment of a retired female Juneau Superior Court judge as an independent investigator into the National Guard accusations that surfaced late last year. Patricia Collins has an interest in gender and discrimination issues, Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny said in an interview last week, and wanted to get to the bottom of the Guard matter herself.
Several investigations have been made into the accusations, but she’ll compile her own report to be released in April.
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, chairs the Senate Judiciary committee that will “look at the criminal allegations (within the National Guard) and how they fell on deaf ears,” she said by text message Friday.
The senator founded the annual Alaska Women’s Summit conference in 2013 after a Legislative Research Services report highlighted the issues facing women in the 49th state, including inordinately high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence.
She called Friday a “great day for Alaska.”
“It is important to see an accomplished woman take this post because many of the complaints have come from women who feared retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment,” McGuire said. “I am honored to see this governor specifically mention the Guard controversy as something he wants his new head to look into.”
Hummel said it’s time for U.S. military of all kinds to fully accept the differences between the people who serve. Women have come a long way as far as being respected in the military and it’s time to make a safe environment for everyone, she said.
“It’s a new day, and most of the military has come to the point that they have accepted with open arms that we are strongest in our diversity,” she said. “The ‘uni’ (in ‘uniform’) stands for ‘all together.’”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.