By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin Air National Guard sergeant whose complaints about sexual assault within his unit sparked two federal investigations believes his commanders are now trying to force him out of the service and deny him retirement benefits in retaliation.
Master Sgt. Jay Ellis filed a complaint Monday with the Wisconsin National Guard inspector general’s office alleging that Guard officials have transferred him out of his unit and launched an in-depth review of his medical history to set up a medical discharge. Such a move would deny Ellis full-time retirement benefits.
“At this point I have no one who I can trust and it is a daily cause of anxiety,” Ellis wrote in the complaint. “I have tried to do the right thing by the personnel in my unit who are still suffering in the toxic and hostile environment outlined in my original complaint.”
Ellis sent U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin a letter in November saying he had learned of at least six instances of sexual harassment or sexual assault against female members of the 115th Fighter Wing’s Security Forces Squadron. The complaint led Baldwin to request a U.S. Air Force investigation. She and Gov. Tony Evers also requested federal National Guard officials conduct a top-to-bottom review of how the Wisconsin National Guard handles sexual assault allegations. Both probes are under way.
Ellis wrote in his complaint to the inspector general’s office that Col. Matthew Eakins, the security squadron’s top commander, transferred him out of the squadron and placed him on administrative duty in January.
Ellis wrote that he initially thought the transfer was designed to protect him from reprisals from other squadron members and that the move would be temporary, but that he later learned that Guard officials blocked his access to security squadron facilities, a rare move if a member was expected to return after a temporary assignment. He also had to remove his gear from a security unit locker as part of a locker room upgrade but wasn’t given a new locker. Instead he was given a locker in a locker room for lower-ranking officers.
Guard officials also began an in-depth review of his medical history in November, Ellis wrote in the complaint. They eventually prepared a memo for an Air Force medical review board listing his medical issues that the Guard has been aware of since he joined 18 years ago, including pain in his feet. He argued in the complaint that the problems have long since been resolved and any restrictions on his physical training have been lifted, but that Eakens still recommended in the memo to the medical review board that Ellis not be retained.
Ellis said in the interview that he’s two years away from retiring with full benefits. A medical discharge would deny him those benefits, particularly the right to collect half his salary for the rest of his life.
Wisconsin National Guard spokeswoman Jackie Halverson said in an email Friday that her ability to immediately check into Ellis’ specific allegations is limited because the Guard is short-staffed as it welcomes home soldiers from a Middle East deployment and supports a former adjutant general’s funeral.
However, she said Air Force medical evaluations aren’t based on service member’s opinions. Construction at the fighter wing may be forcing people to relocate offices and facilities such as locker rooms, but unit commanders make those decisions, she added.
Sexual assaults have plagued the military for years. In 2017 alone, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines received a total of 5,864 reports from military members who said they had been sexually assaulted during their service, which was up 10 percent from 2016, according to Department of Defense figures.
The Wisconsin National Guard received 52 reports of sexual assault between 2013 and 2017 , with more than half related to military service. The Guard has launched two court-martials for sexual assault since 2013.