Top National Guard general defends punishment of commander who exploited soldiers for sex

April 25, 2019 08:11 PM

The top general in the Minnesota National Guard is defending his decision to allow a disgraced commander to retire with an honorable discharge last year - even after that commander exploited subordinate soldiers for sex.

Major General Jon Jensen had previously declined multiple requests to be interviewed about the sexual misconduct investigation involving former Lt. Col. Michael Pazdernik.

5 INVESTIGATES first reported on Pazdernik's honorable discharge in February after obtaining military records that show he targeted and exploited at least four female soldiers directly under his command for his "own sexual gratification."

Sex, lies and disgrace: The honorable discharge of a commander in Minnesota's National Guard

"When it came (time) to punish that individual, we removed him from full-time service," Jensen said Thursday at a press conference on the National Guard's efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault in the military. 

Pazdernik, 44, is not accused of sexual assault. 

In addition to sexual misconduct, Pazdernik lied under oath and, "equally egregious…pressured a female soldier to lie" about the relationship, military records show.

In a letter of reprimand issued last April, Maj. Gen. Jensen called Pazdernik's actions "disgraceful" and a "clear violation" of Army law and policy. Yet, Jensen made the decision to allow Pazdernik to retire with an honorable discharge, which allows him to maintain all of his military benefits, including his pension.

In an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES earlier this year, Trista MatasCastillo, a former commander in the National Guard who now advocates for victims of sexual misconduct in the military, called Jensen's decision "disgusting."

"What was honorable about his service?" MatasCastillo said at the time.

Asked to explain that decision Thursday, Jensen said he did not believe it was the most effective avenue for discipline.

"I can make a request to try and prevent (an honorable discharge), but our experience in that type of action has not been very successful," he said.  

Instead, the Major General said he requested that the Army demote Pazdernik in rank before he retired.

"What we thought was appropriate punishment was to try to impact his retirement," Jensen said. "So that's why I chose…. I chose that."

Pazdernik was demoted to the rank of Major. Jensen said he would have liked to see it knocked down even lower, but that decision was made in Washington.

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Eric Chaloux

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