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Report: Arizona Army National Guard recruiters hunted homeless with paintballs

Military recruiters with the Arizona Army National Guard engaged in a pattern of systemic misbehavior over the past decade that included instances of sexual abuse, forgery, embezzlement and assaults, including riding in a Humvee and shooting paintball guns at homeless people, according to a five-month investigation by The Arizona Republic newspaper.

The newspaper cites interviews with military officers, police reports and military documents obtained through public records requests. 

The alleged wrongdoing was primarily carried out by a small group of military recruiters assigned to visit high schools as part of efforts to enlist them in the armed forces, according to the newspaper.

National Guard investigators said commanders failed to hold subordinates accountable for wrongdoing, partly because they also allegedly engaged in unethical behavior.

In response to the investigation, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced an inquiry into Arizona’s military operations by a National Guard officer of another state.

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"Gov. Brewer has called for a full, fair and independent review of the Arizona National Guard, its personnel and policies, and the discipline that has been handed down for the recent instances of misconduct that have been documented," Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Brewer, told NBC News.

Benson said Brewer was in the process of identifying the appropriate outside party to carry out the review.

"She would like the inquiry to begin as quickly as possible so that she is provided credible information with which to judge the conduct of the Arizona National Guard and its leaders," Benson said in a statement.

The highest-ranking officer at Arizona National Guard, Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, acknowledged discipline problems and failures by commanders.

"I acknowledge there was a problem," Salazar, told the Republic, "We should have had more command emphasis. We should have paid more attention.” Salazar said he did not think there is an ongoing problem.

Military documents detail that non-commissioned officers caught driving drunk in military vehicles were dealt with lightly, and recruiters who forged records or took fraudulent bonus paychecks only received transfers, the Republic reports.

In addition, sergeants who had affairs with teenage recruits were given counseling. One staff sergeant, the paper reported, allegedly had sex with a female enlistee but was still allowed to deploy overseas. While overseas, he was disciplined for similar offenses, and was transferred to the California National Guard as a recruiter, according to the report.

On Monday, the newspaper reported that Staff Sgt. Chad Wille, a recruiter who blew the whistle about the alleged misconduct, had been harassed afterward.

A bicyclist had reported incidents of a camouflage-painted Humvee driving down Seventh Street in north Phoenix shooting paintballs at pedestrians. When Wille questioned a colleague, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Amerson, about it, Amerson reportedly replied, “You’re not aware of the bum hunts?”

Further investigations would unearth more allegations of sexual misconduct, including offering homeless women food, money or drinks for exposing their breasts.
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