In recent months, the behavior of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the allegations made against him by dozens of women has taken America by storm and set off a chain reaction of women coming forward to speak about workplace sexual assault, sexual harassment, and the boys club that perpetuates this type of bad behavior. While the entertainment industry has been rocked the hardest by this scandal, others have gone more or less unaffected. Sexual assault in the US military has at least entered the public consciousness over the last decade, but many stories remain buried, suppressed, and untold.
Our story begins when Colonel Christopher Riga agreed to hire Jennifer O’Brien as the Group secretary in 2012, who soon became notorious within the ranks of 7th Special Forces Group. The Group’s Deputy Commanding Officer, Robert Kirila and the unit’s Executive Officer, Dave Gunther, interviewed her and made the recommendation to hire O’Brien.
As the Group secretary, she appeared to be a competent employee at first, but over time it became apparent that she had so many affairs that they were impossible to keep track of. She was quite open about her relations with Team Sergeants, Sergeants Major, and Officers within the unit. Each day, O’Brien would gather with the Green Berets in the Group conference room for beers where she would recount her latest conquests. Although a civilian employee, these exploits were technically in violation of UCMJ for the soldiers involved who were married as outlined in Article 134 which pertains to adultery. O’Brien was herself married to an Airman during this time.
There were other Special Forces soldiers who came to learn of these relationships and developed concerns about them. In one instance, O’Brien was observed crying at her desk. When asked what was wrong she declined to explain. However, as the weeks went on she began to open up to some of the 7th Group soldiers in the office about how she had been seeing an officer in the unit, but when she broke it off, he kept harassing her by sending her pictures of his genitalia. At first, she did not want to name this individual but later on, as events began to spiral out of her control, she revealed that it was the commander of 7th Group’s Third Battalion, Dave Bowling. As it turned out, he was a so prolific that his own men nicknamed him “Dick Pic Six.”
When the new incoming Group commander, Colonel Michael Ball, took over he began to make some honest efforts to clean things up in his headquarters, but faced significant obstacles due to the amount of leverage that O’Brien had, especially when it came to the tranche of emails, text messages, and pictures she had in her collection from married men in 7th Group. Col. Ball was not a prior 7th Group officer and not a part of the “good old boys” club in the unit. He was straight-laced and by the book. The situation came to a head when it was discovered that O’Brien was also abusing crystal meth. At this point, Colonel Ball and others saw this as an opportunity to purge O’Brien from the unit. A 15-6 investigation was initiated, and the Military Police were informed so that they could sweep the Group headquarters with drug-sniffing dogs.
Interestingly, O’Brien was conspicuously absent that day; some say tipped off by someone in headquarters. Only a select few would have known that the Military Police would be coming. Meanwhile, an officer named Jason Sartori came to the unit and was slated to take command of C-3-7, the 7th Group Commanders in-Extremis Force that specializes in counter-terrorism operations. Sartori and Bowling both started off in 5th Special Forces Group prior to making the jump over to 7th Group. Allegations have been made that when Sartori’s wife found electronic messages between him and O’Brien, a confrontation began. At that point, Sartori allegedly tried to strangle his wife. Several sources went on to allege that Sartori was also physically abusive with O’Brien, who eventually broke things off with Sartori.
In an online posting, O’Brien stated that, “…because of a relationship I had with a monster, a Soldier with whom I worked, I have been indefinitely suspended, and placed in a no pay status, as a Department of the Army Civilian.” Along with her statement, she posted a series of photographs showing bruising and an apparent broken elbow, injuries she allegedly suffered by the hands of Sartori. In an interview with NEWSREP, Sartori vigorously denied any allegation of physical abuse against his ex-wife or O’Brien. Sartori was arrested for false imprisonment, strangulation, battery, and intimidating a witness but these charges were later dropped.
As the 15-6 investigation continued, O’Brien played a shrewd game of cards by withholding the significant amount of blackmail material and threatening to release bits and pieces of it as needed. Investigating officers and other officers in the unit to include Colonel Ball were also asking 1st Special Forces Command for assistance in their efforts to clean up their unit’s problems but were receiving zero support from their parent command. Special Forces Command not only denied support but outright told 7th Group to stand down their investigation and not make waves. No one understood why at the time. Nonetheless, O’Brien was placed on administrative leave and had her clearance suspended.
Jason Sartori states that he had a board in inquiry looking into the charges against him. The board recommended an other than honorable discharge. Sartori says that he elected to resign his commission instead. Other witnesses spoke to NEWSREP on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from their unit and had already experienced punitive actions for speaking out against unethical, immoral, and illegal activities. Some were intimidated and threatened. One source went as far as to describe Sartori as, “a fucking psycho.”
It was also at this time that O’Brien attempted to use her text messages, emails, pictures, and videos from her encounters with senior ranking Green Berets to blackmail them into helping her get her job back as the Group secretary. Special favors may have been exchanged earlier on, but now the investigation was too big and out of the hands of the Colonels and Sergeants Major who may have helped her beforehand.
Placed on leave with a suspended security clearance, Jenn began working up a hit list of men that she was going to take down with her. She carefully controlled the flow of blackmail material up until the time that it became apparent that she would not be getting her job back. At that point, O’Brien made claims to unit members that she had a “silver bullet” that could “bring down the entire Red Empire,” referring 7th Special Forces Group’s nickname.
In early November of 2017, Command Sergeant Major Brian Rarey was removed as the senior enlisted soldier in 1st Special Forces Command. He had been one of the names on O’Brien’s hit list. Suddenly, it made sense why Special Forces Command had stymied the investigation into O’Brien. It would have been a question of self-preservation for the unit’s Command Sergeant Major and potentially many others in echelons above 7th Group. The investigation did not just ensnare Rarey but also Dave Bowling, Jason Sartori, and a half dozen senior Special Forces officers who compromised themselves with O’Brien. Some have gone on to high-level positions, including at the Pentagon. In the end, Colonel Ball was the only one who tried to get rid of O’Brien while the vast majority of senior NCOs and Officers in 7th Group tried to cover up scandal after scandal surrounding O’Brien and the men she slept with.
For the men of 7th Special Forces Group, the actions of their senior leaders came across as a double standard. Their officers and senior NCOs were exposed as hypocritical leaders who would lecture the enlisted men about discipline and punish them for indiscretions, while they themselves were setting a negative example with illicit affairs, covering up for their buddies, engaging in physical abuse against women, and more; all without any fear of punishment until their activities finally spun outside their control and could not be kept under wraps any longer.
For instance, Dave Bowling went on to be Major General Kraft’s S3 Officer in Iraq in as a part of Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) in 2015.
For many of the witnesses and bystanders at 7th Special Forces Group, the entire episode is emblematic of the culture that exists in their unit. Covering down on the SOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility which includes Central and South America, these Green Berets are often exposed to women in foreign cultures where casual sex is not as taboo as it is for soldiers assigned to say, 5th Special Forces Group that covers the Middle East. Take, for example, the story about 7th Special Forces Group soldiers in Colombia that emerged after a Secret Service agent refused to pay a prostitute.
That said, others feel that this is a naïve point of view and that the issue is one of Special Forces culture more than any particular area of operation. One female soldier pointed towards a team house that was frequently visited by Kurdish prostitutes in Iraq for instance. Temptations will always present themselves to deployed soldiers. A former Special Forces officer was even more blunt about this subject saying that these Green Berets, “married young and now their wife is fat and they think they are a ‘pipe hitter’ and can do whatever they want.”
O’Brien wrote that, “I have been publicly humiliated and slut-shamed when my personal emails and intimate pictures were printed and included in an official investigation by a Command with a personal vendetta, hell-bent on firing a tenured civil servant.” The pictures and emails she referred to would have been included in the 15-6 investigation as evidence. However, O’Brien is also commenting on how 7th Group maintained a “good old boys” club. One source with knowledge of the scandal told NEWSREP that she thinks the behavior of these Green Berets is largely ego driven. “They think they are better than everyone else and have never gotten caught. I think 7th Group takes it further [than other Special Forces Groups] with infidelity. A lot of it probably has to do with where they go, South and Central America.”
While she was fired, other officers and senior enlisted leaders remain in their positions. At the very worst, they are allowed to retire quietly. O’Brien was both a victim who suffered physical abuse but also a cunning player who aggressively sought out sexual relationships with multiple men at her workplace and then attempted to use those relationships as leverage. She may have broken regulations, if not the law, but she certainly was not the only one. A small army of all-too-willing Green Berets was right there with her.
At this time, the investigation into O’Brien and at least seven officers involved with her continues. NEWSREP filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the multiple 15-6 investigations that have been carried out in regards to Jenn O’Brien and her associates but was told by USASOC that they could probably never be released due to privacy concerns but that their response was currently sitting with their JAG office. USASOC also stated that they destroy 15-6 investigations after three years, eliminating paper trails. NEWSREP also contacted USASOC’s Public Affairs Officer who said that they could not comment on an ongoing investigation. NEWSREP reached out to Dave Bowling, Brian Rarey, and Jenn O’Brien, who did not reply to inquiries prior to the publication of this article.