Her dream of a long military career finally seemed within reach.
The young soldier had come under the wing of one of the Maine Army National Guard’s well-respected pilots, who helped her with flight coordination duties and advocated for her interests after he transferred into the mostly male aviation unit.
It was only after Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joshua Young earned her trust that he took advantage of it.
One night in August 2017, outside the barracks of a Canadian military base where the unit had traveled for its annual two-week training, Young put his hands on the woman’s torso and tried to kiss her. She told him to stop, but he tried again a few days later, according to an investigative report obtained by the Bangor Daily News.
It was the start of a nine-month nightmare of groping, fondling and harassment, the woman said, that ended with a sexual assault in a Maine Army National Guard hallway, where he pinned her arms and pressed against her. She fought him off and fled, the report stated.
Internal investigators eventually concluded that Young had sexually assaulted her on at least four occasions and likely other women as well, according to the report.
The case was one in a string of assaults and harassment against women in the Maine Army National Guard that has continued unchecked for more than a decade, creating a predatory culture that is driving women out of the service and sometimes out of state, according to a months-long investigation by the BDN of the Army National Guard’s handling of sexual assaults.
Lax enforcement of internal policies, lack of oversight, and retaliation against those who step forward with complaints have created a system in which victims believe they sometimes face harsher repercussions than the soldiers who assaulted them, the investigation found.
It’s a problem drawing increasing attention across the United States as national guard units work to reduce assaults and harassment of soldiers. But Maine has lagged in responding to the concerns.
The BDN reviewed hundreds of pages of state, federal, military, police and court documents, and interviewed more than 15 current and former guard members, including seven women who said they were assaulted by other guard members, as well as witnesses and others with direct knowledge of the cases.
Sexual assault cases investigated by the military have risen sharply in the last two years in the Maine Army National Guard, and all have been substantiated. The BDN learned of other allegations of sexual assault but the women could not be reached or declined to be interviewed.
This year, moreover, at least two Maine guardsmen are facing criminal charges amid allegations they sexually assaulted other soldiers. In September, Specialist Bret Chapman was indicted in Arizona on charges he sexually abused a female soldier while deployed to the Mexican border. And in Maine, Specialist David Cyr IV was indicted Nov. 8 in Washington County, with two counts of gross sexual assault of a female soldier. Both cases are pending.
Yet no soldier has received a dishonorable discharge from the Maine Army National Guard in at least 20 years — if ever — for any reason, officials told the BDN in response to requests for documentation.
“How can you go to war with people that don’t have your back?” the female soldier who said she was assaulted by Young told the BDN. “The nature of the job itself, these are positions of trust. Everybody that enlists through the military is sworn to protect the Constitution and country, all enemies foreign and domestic. These predators are domestic.”
The BDN does not identify the victims of sexual assault, but the woman and others interviewed agreed to speak about their cases in hopes of changing the system for other female soldiers.
For now, she remains in the Maine Army National Guard but is set to be medically discharged in late November for trauma stemming from the assaults.
Young has denied the allegations, but told the BDN he resigned voluntarily from the guard last year because he didn’t believe he could continue under the circumstances.
“Most of it is either downright lies or wildly warped,” he said. “No one told me to resign or anything, but I felt like it was the only way to carry on with my life. If I was trying to stay in and trying to clear my name, it was only going to get worse.”
Officials would not disclose whether he received an honorable discharge, though Young said he left without reaching the 20 years of service needed to qualify for military retirement benefits.
Maj. Gen Douglas A. Farnham, the adjutant general overseeing the Maine National Guard, declined a request for an interview, but guard officials responded in writing to questions.
“The Maine Army National Guard takes seriously its responsibility to root out sexual assault and sexual harassment within its ranks and to send the clear message to all our Soldiers that inappropriate behavior of any kind is not and will not be tolerated,” Public Affairs Officer Maj. Carl Lamb said in a written response.
“We actively encourage all service members to intervene in inappropriate behavior and to report it immediately so that appropriate disciplinary action can be taken against the perpetrator and supportive action can be taken to help the victim.”
The guard said the rise in cases can be attributed not to an increase in assaults and harassment but to a greater willingness by soldiers to report inappropriate behavior.
“We welcome this change because more active reporting, whether by the survivor or from bystanders, will enable us to take appropriate action,” Lamb said.
But they have acknowledged in internal emails that the numbers are troubling.
In June, after the BDN began asking questions about the handling of cases, the guard leadership scheduled additional training on preventing sexual assault and harassment. In an email announcing the training, officials cited “significant increases” in workplace discrimination complaints including sexual harassment over the previous 18 months.
The spike in cases showed an “unprecedented and unacceptable pattern,” the email said.
Little has been done, however, to hold guard officials accountable. Nearly 10 years after Maine lawmakers passed legislation to improve the handling of cases in the guard, the state still does not require even basic reporting of sexual assaults and harassment to state officials.
“These investigations happen so often and frequently at all levels of the organization,” said a senior male member of the guard who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
“Clearly, no one is afraid to commit sexual assault.”
‘Good old boys club’
The Maine Army National Guard is among the smallest, and most male, of the state national guards.
Created in 1820 as a state militia, the Maine Army National Guard now operates alongside the Maine Air National Guard with state leadership under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Defense. It’s one of the oldest national guards in the nation.
With about 1,900 members, it ranks as the fifth-smallest state army guard. And just 15 percent of its soldiers are women — the lowest percentage of any state except Utah, Vermont and West Virginia. The percentage of female officers is even lower, at less than 14 percent.
Members drill one weekend per month and attend a two-week training session each summer. Fewer than 25 percent of members work full time for the guard.
As reserve components to the U.S. Army, members are deployed periodically in the United States, largely to help with disasters or along the Mexican border. They have been sent internationally to such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa, rescued hikers off Maine mountains and were deployed to the state and national capitols after the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.
The guard operates with about $121 million a year in federal funding from the Department of Defense, about $70 million of which is allocated to the Army National Guard. The state contributed $3.3 million to guard operations in 2021, according to a guard spokesperson.
But soldiers — both male and female — told the BDN the guard operates as a “good old boys club” that doesn’t take women seriously and is reluctant to change.
Sexual assault and harassment cases investigated in the Maine Army National Guard have more than quadrupled since October 2019, to an average of more than five per year, with all but one harassment case substantiated by military investigators, according to state and federal records.
In the previous eight years, the Maine Army National Guard had averaged about one complaint per year of sexual harassment and had no reports of sexual assault, records show.
The four internal complaints of sexual assault since 2020 — including Young’s case — were investigated and substantiated by the National Guard Bureau, a federal agency that coordinates with state and territorial national guard units. The bureau reported no investigations of sexual assaults within the Maine Army National Guard before 2020, officials said.
Not all allegations are investigated by the guard bureau. The BDN identified other cases of alleged sexual assault and harassment dating back to 2010, including a substantiated harassment complaint against a guardsman who served as a sexual assault response coordinator overseeing the victim advocates.
Female soldiers said they were reluctant to file complaints for fear of retaliation, and the guard did not provide requested details on how many of its complaints came from men. Researchers have repeatedly found that sexual assault is severely underreported within the military as a whole because soldiers fear retaliation.
“Regardless of the amount of incidents being reported, there needs to be a sober recognition that that’s not the full scope of the problem,” said Laura Palumbo, a spokesperson for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, a Pennsylvania organization that has studied problems within the U.S. military.
Afraid to be alone
Young, who was a full-time guard member, had a reputation among his fellow soldiers, according to the guard bureau’s investigation.
He “openly joked he could have sex with female soldiers,” and would tell others which ones he wanted to sleep with before the end of a drill weekend, a female soldier told investigators. The same woman said she “believes she could say, ‘No,’ a million different ways and he would not accept it,” the report noted.
She told investigators that Young appeared to target women who were younger and new to their units, and who he believed were “in a situation where they wanted to be accepted,” according to the report.
A copy of the internal report obtained by the BDN redacts the name of the accused soldier, but he is identified as Young in other documents that mention the investigation, including a police report, and in interviews with the female soldier and others familiar with the case.
Young was “confident, untouchable, and the star of the show,” another soldier told investigators, saying Young tested boundaries with her and other female soldiers.
He “was arrogant and behaved as if he was above the law,” according to a third soldier quoted in the report.
Young told the BDN the investigation was skewed against him, saying investigators pressured witnesses to speak negatively about him but he declined to name them. The report’s conclusion that other victims were likely is “preposterous,” he said.
“I didn’t know where this was coming from,” he said. “This is the most unpleasant thing I’ve ever been through.”
Young has a minor criminal record, according to court records. In 2013, while out drinking with friends in Westbrook, he allegedly “hit on” a woman at a food truck, then became violent after she rejected his advances, according to Westbrook Police Department records.
Young punched the woman’s male companion in the face, then pulled a knife on another man who intervened, according to police records and in an interview with the man he assaulted.
Young was charged with multiple felonies. Under a deal worked out with prosecutors, he spent a weekend in jail before pleading guilty to misdemeanor criminal mischief, and agreed to stay out of trouble for a year, according to court records.
At one point, his attorney used Young’s service in the Maine Army National Guard to help convince the judge to allow him to continue using firearms while the case was pending.
Young said the incident occurred during a bachelor party “and things got out of control.” He said he reported it to the guard as required.
“It was an isolated incident,” he said.
In August 2017, after returning from training in Canada, he remained persistent with the flight coordinator. At one point he cornered her in a conference room, grabbed her behind the neck and tried to kiss her, she told investigators, who substantiated that it was a sexual assault, according to the report.
She avoided being alone with Young, but the presence of other soldiers didn’t prevent his advances, she said. He continued to touch and grope her “on multiple occasions” during drill weekends over the next nine months — rubbing her leg with his hand, and brushing, grabbing and squeezing her buttocks as he walked behind her, the guard’s investigation found.
The woman said she was initially reluctant to file a complaint, in part because Young was a respected pilot and combat veteran.
A helicopter pilot, Young started his military career in the U.S. Army Reserves in 2003. He later served overseas in Iraq, earning a Combat Action Badge, the Army Good Conduct Medal and the Army Commendation Medal, according to records provided by the U.S. Army Human Resources Headquarters in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
He won the commendation medal for his role in running a supply section for a combat hospital in Iraq, where he served from 2006 to 2007.
“Young’s selfless service and dedication to duty had a significant impact on the overall success of the hospital’s mission,” read the commendation given to Young. “His actions are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service.”
Young enlisted in the Maine Army National Guard in 2009, ending his service in the U.S. Army Reserve, records show.
Young’s behavior, however, was a topic of conversation in his guard unit.
During a meeting that included his unit’s leadership after the incident in Canada, a member of the guard spoke up to say that Young “needed to be reined in because he was out of line for grabbing people,” according to the guard’s investigative report.
But someone else at the meeting downplayed the concern, saying that the flight coordinator “was asking for it,” and Young retained his pilot duties. The names of the meeting participants were redacted from the report, but a person in attendance recalled being shocked by the comment.
It wasn’t until August 2019 that the flight coordinator decided to make a formal report against Young, records show. By then, she had transferred away from her part-time job in Young’s unit into a full-time position in human resources.
She told investigators he continued to text her, and she felt it was her duty to report him.
She filed a complaint in late 2019 with the Bangor Police Department for alleged inappropriate sexual touching on the guard base. But like many guard members, she was faced with a choice about whether to pursue the case with civilian law enforcement or press the guard for an internal investigation. She told police she would prefer for the guard to investigate, and the criminal case was closed without charges.
She asked guard leadership for a formal investigation by the Office of Complex Investigations, a division of the National Guard Bureau that looks into allegations of sexual assaults on national guard bases. The bureau only investigates cases that are not being investigated by law enforcement.
“I felt like it was never going to stop,” she said.
Allegations were handled differently in Arizona.
Because the Maine guard was deployed to the border state under the command of the U.S. Army, the full force of the federal investigative branch was involved in the recent allegations against the Maine guardsman charged with sexual abuse and assault.
Chapman, 26, of Walpole was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, and the Army conducted a collateral investigation, according to Army spokesperson Bonnie Conard.
The case was handed over to local authorities, and Chapman was indicted in August by a grand jury in Cochise County, Arizona, on four felony charges — two counts of sexual abuse, kidnapping and aggravated assault, officials said. The female soldier reported in December 2020 that Chapman had restrained her and sexually assaulted her while they were deployed to the border along with about 3,500 other guard members from 27 states.
Chapman will remain on duty until he goes to trial, officials said. A trial date has not yet been set. His attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
The Army has taken steps to protect the female soldier who filed the complaint, however, by ensuring “he has no contact with the … victim, whose safety the command continues to prioritize,” Conard said.
The BDN is not identifying the female soldier’s unit to avoid revealing her identity.
It’s difficult to determine how often local or federal law enforcement investigate sexual assaults involving Maine guard members, because state officials do not track those cases and guard members are under an honor system to report them.
In Maine, however, women are effectively forced to choose between filing internal complaints and going to local police or prosecutors. The bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations, designed to step in as a last resort after law enforcement has declined to investigate, has instead created a system in which female soldiers must bargain away a criminal investigation to get internal action against a guardsman.
Regulations specify the bureau can refer cases to local law enforcement, though local prosecutors say they are not aware of any formal referrals.
The military standards vary from those in the criminal justice system. Sexual assault in the military is a broader category of sexual offenses than in the criminal code, and includes rape, forcible sodomy, aggravated sexual contact and abusive sexual contact.
The military standards for sustaining an allegation, meanwhile, are lower than the level needed for guilt in the criminal justice system. Military investigators must determine that something was “more likely than not” to have happened, while in the civilian system, jurors or judges must decide “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Once the National Guard Bureau investigates a complaint, it refers its findings to the guard’s top-ranking officer, the adjutant general, who decides whether to take action against the guard member. Only the adjutant general or the governor can initiate a court-martial, which, if the offender is found guilty, can lead to dismissal, a bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, a reduction to the lowest rank, confinement or even hard labor, according to the Maine Code of Military Justice.
The code has never been used to prosecute a sexual assault, which was added to the state regulations as an offense in 2013, guard officials said.
The former flight coordinator and another female soldier told the BDN that they opted to forego criminal prosecution in favor of an internal investigation because they wanted the guard to change the system to better protect female soldiers.
They shouldn’t have to choose between a criminal case or a guard investigation, said Dwight Stirling, a reserve judge advocate general with the California National Guard and founder and chief executive of the Center for Law and Military Policy, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to strengthening legal protections for service members.
“I don’t see why we can’t do both at the same time,” Stirling said.
The National Guard Bureau acknowledges its current system is problematic. In its annual report on sexual assaults in 2020, the bureau said that an inability to investigate criminal sexual assaults was a “major issue.” The report added that the bureau would address this “significant gap” in its investigative capacity in 2021.
In the Washington County case, guardsman Cyr is accused of assaulting a female guard member in 2019 after a day of drilling, when Cyr, the woman and other members of the guard had dinner and drinks at a nearby hotel and restaurant, according to a sworn statement by Detective Chad Lindsey of the Maine State Police.
The woman told Lindsey that she had become intoxicated and went to buy water, but Cyr said he had some in his room. Back at the room, he sexually assaulted her despite her repeated protests that he stop, according to the police statement. She eventually fled the room.
A female witness said the woman disappeared with Cyr for a time but then returned with her shirt inside-out, acting “weird” and “panicky.” She then cried and told her Cyr had “sexually touched” her and removed her clothing, the witness told the detective.
She said Cyr “was known for going for any woman that came into the unit,” according to the statement.
The next morning, the witness told the unit’s sergeant that the woman had made an allegation of sexual assault against Cyr. The sergeant asked Cyr about it and he denied any sexual contact between them, according to the affidavit.
But the sergeant didn’t ask the female soldier what had happened. “He did not interview [the victim] as she was upset and emotional at the time and she didn’t bring it up again,” the detective wrote.
In April, two years after the alleged assault, Cyr was charged with one count of gross sexual assault. The case is pending.
Cyr told an investigator that he did not remember the woman and referred questions to his lawyer, according to police records. Cyr’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
The criminal justice system has handled at least one other case involving Maine Army National Guard members, the BDN found.
In 2013, Army Guardsman Corey Coldwell was charged with gross sexual assault against a fellow female soldier who was “unconscious or otherwise physically incapable of resisting,” according to court filings.
He eventually reached a deal with prosecutors in which he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault. He’s no longer with the guard but the conditions of his departure were redacted from his service records. Officials refused to provide details about his discharge.
The woman declined to talk about her case but sent a lengthy statement via email. She said she was intoxicated during the assault.
“I would not have consented if I had an accurate measure of what was happening,” she said in the email. “Not only had I blacked out, I couldn’t even walk by myself, and I kept going in and out of consciousness.”
Coldwell did not comment when reached by phone.
Civil court intervention
Some women have sought protection from the civil court system.
A female soldier asked a judge for a protection order in late 2020, saying in a sworn statement submitted to the court that she was afraid of a guardsman who had sexually assaulted her in 2011.
The guardsman, Sgt. Major Joshua Willett, assaulted her on the Bangor base while she was on duty, she said in the statement. The sexual assault was later substantiated by investigators, according to documents reviewed by the BDN.
The BDN contacted the woman after reviewing the court records, but she declined to talk about the assault. She agreed to speak about her experiences within the organization, however, in hopes of promoting change.
She didn’t file a complaint at the time, she said, because by then she knew what happened to women who came forward.
In 2009, she had enlisted with the guard to help pay for college at the University of Maine, joining a unit where she learned to drive and operate military vehicles while working as a refueler. Almost immediately, a section leader — not Willett — started making crude comments, asking intrusive questions about her sex life and groping her, she said.
She eventually pulled him aside and politely asked him to stop, but he didn’t. When he started showing up outside of her house, she decided to file a sexual harassment complaint, she said. The person who took down her report asked her if she wanted to ruin the man’s career and marriage. Other supervisors downplayed his behavior, telling her that was “just his personality,” she told the BDN.
The retaliation began soon after, she said.
“He would say awful things, tell people I was a lazy piece of shit and create a persona that I was not worth being in the guard,” she said. “I was isolated from the unit. They saw me as a dirt-bag slut and career-ender.”
As a 20-year-old private at the time, she wasn’t sure how to speak up for herself in an organization where it is inappropriate to push back against officers of a higher rank, she said.
That’s when Willett, a senior officer, came to her rescue, she said. When the section leader falsely accused her of being on her phone during drills, Willett locked her phone in his office so she’d have a provable defense.
He boosted her confidence and offered his assistance, at one point rescheduling her physical fitness tests for more convenient times, she told the BDN. Then came the assault on base one day while they were on duty, according to the court records.
She didn’t file a complaint or go to police at the time, but she told others that she’d been sexually assaulted. In October 2020, she filed a sexual assault complaint with the Maine guard after he began calling her and showing up at her workplace, according to her statement to the court.
Willett did not respond to requests for comment via phone call and text message. He was not found at an address listed for him in court and real estate records.
He was banned from the base and told not to contact her while the investigation was ongoing, according to the court petition. She was warned in November 2020 that he’d been given permission to visit the base for a day if he avoided her building.
When a supervisor saw Willett enter her building, however, the female soldier was escorted off the premises, the petition states. The woman asked the sexual assault coordinator why he’d disobeyed the order.
“Her reply was that, ‘He was getting a haircut,'” according to the sworn statement.
In early December, she asked for the “protection from abuse” order against Willett in Bangor District Court. The judge approved the order.
She believes that if her initial complaint about harassment by the other officer had been taken seriously, things might have been different for her and other female soldiers over the years.
“Maine is such a small state, and we have such a small national guard,” she said. “It’s hard for leaders to see, ‘Oh, this guy I grew up with next door, he’s a perpetrator who raped a soldier.’
“By not taking my story about [the section leader] seriously, it opened a floodgate for other men to prey on me,” she said. “By the time I was assaulted, I already knew I wasn’t going to be supported.”
His status within the Maine Army National Guard is unclear. Officials declined to comment about the specific case, but the National Guard Bureau said it has substantiated all cases investigated by the unit.
For now, women are leaving the Maine Army National Guard — and sometimes leaving the state altogether — over the handling of sexual assault and harassment.
In some cases, the guard has lost decorated, combat-tested soldiers who received tens of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded training over their years of service. Some left because of post-traumatic stress they developed after being assaulted by another soldier.
“We’re losing so much talent. There’s a brain drain going on, and I can’t blame them,” said a mid-level male soldier who requested anonymity.
“If I was treated the way they were, I would be angry and leaving, too.”
Former guard member Marina Gray told the BDN that a female drill sergeant took her aside when she first arrived for basic training in 2012.
The drill sergeant warned the 17-year-old soldier of the sober reality of being a woman in uniform, Gray said.
“She was like, ‘I’m going to be straight-up honest — it’s really hard,'” Gray said.
Gray said she was careful about what she wore, what she said publicly and how she socialized with other guard members. When male soldiers made sexually suggestive comments, she didn’t report them, fearing it might hurt her military career.
“Imagine being in an environment where 1 in 50 people are like you, and you have an older man who is married come on to you sexually,” Gray said. “You’re like, ‘What do I do? Where do I have the space to stand up for myself in that situation?'”
Gray grew tired of hiding parts of her personality, however, and entered the Miss Maine USA pageant in 2017. She won, but did not renew her contract with the guard the following year.
“I’m not looking for an apology. I just hope the next time people in leadership see a situation similar to mine, they treat the soldier differently,” she said. “It’s not my fault I was born a girl.”
Leaving the guard is the next step for the former flight coordinator, too. Paperwork has been approved for her to receive a disability discharge from the guard at the end of November after nearly 13 years of military service, according to documents.
She said the guard determined that she had post-traumatic stress from the assault, leading to the disability discharge.
It has taken her months to reach this point. After speaking to National Guard Bureau investigators about Young’s conduct, she waited several months to learn the result of their investigation. At one point, the victim’s advocate assigned to her case complained to the organization’s central office over the lack of information, emails show.
She finally learned that investigators had substantiated her assault allegations by making a Freedom of Information Act request for the report. She received the findings a few months after the report was completed in late April, she said.
It was only then, as she read over the 16-page report on her work computer, that she learned that people in the guard had known about Young’s conduct but did not stop him.
“You’re led to believe that you’re in a family,” she said. “Your job is essentially to die for the person to the left and right of you.”
When she realized she could no longer trust the people on either side of her, she knew her military career had ended. Her dreams went with it.
“When you identify as something your whole adult life and it’s ripped out from under you in a matter of months, you can’t really process that,” she said.
As her final days in the guard near, she still doesn’t know what she will do next.
She loved being a soldier.
(c) 2021 the Bangor Daily News
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