Coast Guard Academy Plans to Strip Past Offenders of Their Honors

File image courtesy USCG

Published Apr 25, 2024 6:26 PM by The Maritime Executive


On Thursday, USCGA announced a new, symbolic step towards accountability for past wrongdoing: it is stripping former cadets who were credibly accused of UCMJ offenses of the honors they accumulated while at the academy, if the preponderance of evidence suggests their guilt.  

"When the Academy recognizes one of our members, we work hard to ensure that this action reflects the values of this institution and our service," said Rear Admiral Michael Johnston, Academy Superintendent. "We must also ensure these awards and honors, [which] serve as a source of pride and inspiration, reflect the culture of this Academy to past, current, and future members."

The administrative process will take down any permanent recognition on academy grounds for "previous awardees who have committed a crime or violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice." A panel of the academy's senior leaders and an advisory council will meet to decide on each revocation. 

"Upon final decision, any permanent recognition will be removed and destroyed," USCGA said in a statement. In its place, a recognition plate with the motto "Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty" will be posted. 

The process could potentially bring a measure of accountability for unresolved "Operation Fouled Anchor" cases. From 2014-2018, 70 Coast Guard Investigative Service agents spent 20,000 hours looking into allegations of sexual assault and harassment at USCGA, spanning a time period from the late 1980s to 2006. The review unearthed more than 60 substantiated, unprosecuted incidents and 43 individual suspects, including some who were still on active duty in the Coast Guard. In their report, investigators described a "disturbing pattern of conducting internal administrative investigations and/or initiating disenrollment for sexual misconduct [at USCGA] instead of referring the matter for criminal investigation."

The alleged offenses in Fouled Anchor occurred two decades ago or more, and the statute of limitations makes it impossible to bring criminal charges against the accused. The new Academy process to strip awardees of their past honors will "account for statute of limitations issues that can occur with survivor reporting of various crimes."

Victim advocates have called for accountability actions targeted at past leaders - not just past offenders - for failure to act on a systemic problem. A Senate investigation headed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has been pressing the Coast Guard for communications and documents related to Operation Fouled Anchor - in particular, the 2018 decision to conceal the problem from Congressional oversight.