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Air Force Investigating 12 Instructors on Sex Misconduct

The U.S. Air Force is investigating 12 male military training instructors for alleged sexual misconduct with female cadets, the head of the Air Force Air Education and Training Command said today.

General Edward Rice said the Air Force has identified 31 victims, all of whom had been trained at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. He said nine of the 12 instructors under investigation were from the 331st training squadron at Lackland.

The commander of that squadron was relieved of his duty this month, Rice said.

“We are taking a comprehensive look, not only at the cases we know, but in trying to assess whether there are other cases out there,” Rice told reporters today at a Pentagon briefing.

In addition to his command’s internal probe, Rice ordered Major General Margaret Woodward to conduct an independent investigation examining the command’s response to the scandal and whether additional actions should be taken.

The command also is considering whether female cadets should be trained only by female instructors, though no decisions have been made, Rice said.

The probe at Lackland began last year, after three training instructors came forward with information about alleged misconduct, he said.

Representative Jackie Speier of California, a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee, called for that panel to conduct its own investigation of the scandal.

‘Zero Tolerant’

“The fact that these assaults were widespread and took place over many months flies in the face of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy touted by our military leaders,” Speier wrote in a letter last week to the Armed Services committee’s Republican chairman and ranking Democrat.

Speier said that at least four Air Force instructors have been charged with sexual misconduct with at least 24 trainees.

A staff sergeant was charged with having sexual contact with 10 women in incidents that included sodomy and rape in technical and basic training, Speier said.

In another case, a staff sergeant admitted in a plea bargain to having sex with one trainee, resulting in a punishment of 90 days in jail, 30 days of hard labor, a reduction in rank and a fine, the lawmaker said. After striking that deal, the sergeant testified he actually had improper contact with 10 trainees, according to Speier.

‘Culture of Silence’

“What military leaders need to finally acknowledge and admit is they haven’t done enough,” said Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine officer who is executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, which provides legal counseling to military women. “For every instructor that going to be implicated at Lackland, there are probably a dozen more who knew about it and failed to report it. You have this culture of tolerance and silence that’s pervasive in the military.”

Greg Jacob, the group’s policy director and a former Marine commander, said segregated training for female cadets would be a mistake.

“Isolating women will not prevent sexual assaults,” Jacob said by e-mail.

Rice, the training commander, said “a relatively small number” of instructors are responsible for alleged misconduct that “has cast a shadow over the entire program” of basic training at Lackland.

About 500 instructors train about 35,000 cadets annually, Rice said. About 22 percent of the cadets are women, as are 11 percent of the trainers, he said.

`No Power'

Bhagwati said abuse of women in basic training is particularly troublesome because new recruits “have no power, no authority, no freedom of movement” without approval of a drill instructor.

“You can’t use the bathroom without permission,” she said.

Although most of the instructors under investigation were from a single squadron, Rice declined to say whether the alleged attacks on women were coordinated in some way within that squadron or whether they were all isolated incidents.

Describing the scandal as mostly “localized” to a single squadron, Rice said, “the vast majority of our 500 military training instructors are performing magnificently.”

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