The biggest threat these days to unit cohesion in the U.S. military is the tolerance for sexual assaults in the ranks. A Pentagon report released Tuesday underscored the seriousness of the problem.
Last year, the Defense Department recorded 3,374 sexual assaults on men and women in the military, an increase from 3,192 in 2011. The Pentagon also said that, through anonymous surveys and sampling research, it estimated that approximately 26,000 service personnel endured "unwanted sexual contact" in 2012, a 35 percent increase over 2010.
As if to underscore the problem, the Air Force's top sexual assault prevention officer was arrested the previous weekend on charges of groping a woman in a parking lot.
President Barack Obama expressed his frustration with the overall rise in incidents, but it's not enough. As the nation's commander in chief, he must hold those in the chain of command responsible for failing to protect their soldiers from sexual assault.
One troubling aspect of the problem is that about 1 in 4 assault victims declined to press charges. Experts say troops aren't willing to come forward because they doubt that the military justice system will handle the case fairly and they don't want their careers to be hurt if they make accusations, especially against higher-ups. Some members of Congress have called for revisions in the Uniform Code of Military Justice to hinder commanders from overturning convictions that go against officers they oversee.
On Wednesday Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered steps to reduce the number of assaults and to take the problem seriously. He said commanders must create a climate that prevents sexual assault and treats victims properly, the stigma for victims who report sexual assault must be reduced and more training to prevent sexual abuse must be given to trainers and recruits.
That's a start.
For the sake of morale and in fairness to the men and women committed to serving their country, Mr. Hagel has to end this culture of abuse and victimization. If he can't, then the president must hold him accountable.