AF Commander Fired Amid Squadron Sex Scandal

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The Air Force has fired the commander of a basic training squadron enmeshed in a sex scandal involving instructors and trainees, according to reports.

Lt. Col. Mike Paquette was not himself facing disciplinary action or claims of misconduct, but 37th Training Wing commander Col. Eric Axelbank decided to fire him on Wednesday, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

"Col. Axelbank, based upon a whole bunch of factors, has lost confidence in [Paquette's] ability to lead that squadron, and he has removed him," Col. Polly Kenny, staff judge advocate for the 2nd Air Force, told the paper.

Lt. Col. John Gondol will now head the 331st Training Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Four of the squadron's instructors have been accused of engaging in illicit sexual contact with trainees in basic and technical training. Other training instructors, or TIs, also are likely to be charged once the Air Force wraps up its investigation, the Express-News reported.

One of those accused, Staff Sgt. Luis A. Walker, allegedly had sexual contact with 10 women; he is accused of raping one of them. Walker faces life in prison if convicted.

Former Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado admitted to having sexual contact with 10 women, according to the report. The paper said he entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors in hope of getting a lighter sentence.

Earlier this month, the paper reported that about 8 percent of TIs at San Antonio-Lackland had been removed for misconduct. The paper obtained Air Force records detailing the removals through the Freedom of Information Act. The documents revealed that 35 of 473 instructors were dismissed from their jobs in the past year, either temporarily or permanently for “unprofessional conduct."
 
The allegations included sexual misconduct on the part of several instructors, including Walker, though Kenny said a majority of the 35 were not involved in sexual misconduct.

Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the Air Force's only basic training base, has eight training squadrons.

The paper reported that Paquette was slated for reassignment to a joint unit and possibly a promotion when the sex scandal came to light. A former Air Force secretary said Paquette can probably forget about making colonel.

"People who are relieved by a senior commander for lack of confidence usually don't get promoted after that, so it is a very significant message," said F. Whit Peters, now an attorney In Washington.

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