LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The head of the Air Force's training command ordered an independent investigation into instructor misconduct Friday amid a scandal at a Texas base that already has led to sexual misconduct charges against four instructors.
Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., commander of the Air Education and Training Command, said in a statement that he has appointed Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward -- acting director of operational planning, policy and strategy at the Air Force's headquarters in Washington -- to lead the investigation that will include all training units in the command.
Rice said concerns about instructor sexual misconduct came to light after an instructor at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland was accused of sexual assault last year. Military prosecutors have since charged four Lackland instructors with sexual misconduct involving trainees. One has been accused of rape.
Rice expressed confidence that the majority of military training team members follow conduct standards but he wants to ensure there aren't broader problems.
"It's important to look even deeper and wider to identify any systemic issues that may place our youngest Airmen at risk in any basic or technical training environment," he said. "If there are, we need to address them."
Nearly three dozen Lackland instructors have lost their jobs in the past year amid the widening scandal. While base officials have said most of the 35 ousted instructors were not removed for sexual misconduct, military prosecutors have charged four male instructors and the Air Force is investigating other allegations.
Earlier this week, the Air Force also relieved Lt. Col. Mike Paquette as commander of the 331st Training Squadron that has been under scrutiny in the scandal and assigned new leadership. Military attorney Col. Polly Kenny has said Paquette is not accused of misconduct and that his new assignment will determined this summer.
Allegations of misconduct at Lackland came to light in June 2011, when basic military training instructor Staff Sgt. Luis Walker was accused of sexually assaulting a trainee, according to Rice's statement. An investigation led to 28 charges, including rape, adultery and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. He was relieved of his duties and is scheduled for a July court martial. A message left for his civilian attorney, Joseph Esparza, was not immediately returned Friday.
After Walker was charged, several other members of the Military Training Instructor corps have brought forth allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by instructors at Lackland, Rice's statement said.
One of the accused instructors, Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado, has pleaded guilty to one charge of having an improper relationship with a trainee and violating a no-contact order and agreed to assist prosecutors with other cases, according to the statement. A telephone listing for Vega-Maldonado could not be found Friday.
Rice said Woodward's investigation will not stop the ongoing reviews or criminal investigation at Lackland. He said she will present her report to him within 60 days, unless she is granted an extension.