Serving in Silence: Women Felt “Unsafe at Work”

Nestled in a narrow mountain valley, the snow surrounding the West Virginia National Guard’s headquarters can give the impression of a calm and quiet place.

But the News4 I-Team uncovered documents showing a battle of the sexes raging behind their walls.

“As a female, whether you’re enlisted or an officer, you have to be faster, better, stronger at everything you do and you learn that really quick,” said Capt. Dendra Weaver.

It’s a lesson she said she learned on the battlefield but one she says she never thought she would have to learn yet again when she returned home from Afghanistan — when she made a sexual harassment complaint against one of her commanders.

“I think this man was dead serious when he looked at me and said, ‘I will effing kill you,’” Captain Weaver said. “He wasn’t joking.”

The investigation into her complaint unleashed a barrage of complaints from other female soldiers.

In written statements obtained by the News4 I-Team, female service members described “a boy’s club attitude” resulting in them “often” called “derogatory names” with multiple complaints of sexual harassment.

In response, one male officer told investigators he felt “the females are whining and such over promotions.”

But Capt. Weaver disagrees. “The Army is not a wayward home for girls. It’s not the Girl Scouts.” She said there was “a difference between being hard and firm and standard driven” to the verbal abuse she said she experienced in West Virginia.

The Guard’s investigators “sustained” several complaints of physical assault, including kicking a chair and throwing objects at service members. Some women admitted they “do not feel safe” working there. Even the Guard’s sexual assault victim advocate told investigators the soldiers and officers inside the West Virginia National Guard “don’t have each other’s backs as they should. I don’t know how this would work if they were sent to the battlefield.”

Gen. James Hoyer took over the West Virginia National Guard the same year the complaints started to surface inside his organization. “We’ve determined the best way to go about addressing this situation is I’ve got to affect change to the culture and environment of the organization,” he told the I-Team. “Normally the adjutant general goes out and visits his troops. And he looks at what they’re doing militarily, how they’re training, the things they’re doing getting ready to go to war. I decided what to do with my unit visits is spend less time observing training and taking part of that time to do town halls.”

The two-star general tells the I-Team during those town halls, he separated the women from the rest of the unit so they would speak honestly with him.

He says at least 24 have since come forward claiming they were sexually assaulted or harassed, including Lt. Col. Teresa James, who according to a recent National Guard Bureau report, is the highest ranking officer in the nation to come forward with a rape claim.

James told the I-Team, “I thought with my longevity and my years of service that the leadership would view me as a very creditable person and would support me and that’s not what happened.”

Lt. Col. James said her attacker resigned because, as the I-Team discovered, the West Virginia National Guard does not have the legal authority to court martial soldiers for criminal offenses.

Gen. Hoyer said he can punish offenders financially by stripping them of their pensions and issuing letters of reprimand, which is what he said he did after the internal investigation found James’s perpetrator was physically and sexually assaulting junior officers.

Gen. Hoyer said, “I’m pleased the town hall is having an impact. I’m frustrated we’re still dealing with this issue. I’m frustrated that there are people that take advantage of other people that impacts our organization’s ability to do the things we’re supposed to do — be prepared to take the nation to war or respond to a disaster that may occur. So my frustration lies more with as much as I think we’re having an impact here and we’ve got people coming forward, is it coming fast enough? Is change coming fast enough?”

In a statement to News4, the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) says the "allegations presented are not reflective of the commands' actions and efforts in cases of sexual assault." Click here to read WVNG's full statement.

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