No Officer Courts-Martial in AF Sex Abuse Scandal

Command failures and a "leadership gap" were cited repeatedly as major factors in the sexual abuse of women recruits by enlisted trainers at at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, but no officers will face judicial punishment.

Command failures and a “leadership gap” were cited repeatedly as major factors in the sexual abuse of women recruits by enlisted trainers at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, but no officers will face judicial punishment, Air Force Gen. Edward Rice said Wednesday.

“This isn’t about bad people” in command at Lackland “and it isn’t about punishing bad people” for lack of oversight, said Rice, head of the Air Force Training and Education Command.

Despite the leadership failures, lengthy investigations and reports on the abuse of at least 49 women at Lackland “did not uncover a single case where the behavior of the commanders involved was against rules and regulations” or amounted to criminal conduct, Rice said.

Col. Glenn Palmer, the top commander of basic traning at Lackland, and Lt. Col. Mike Paquette, commander of the 331st Training Squadron, have already lost their jobs in the scandal. Six other officers have been singled out for possible administrative action, Rice said.

In the case of the officers, “his isn’t about punishing people for wrongdoing. It’s about holding them responsible” for upholding standards, Rice said.

Rice spoke at a Pentagon briefing on the 180-page report to the Air Force Secretary on the Basic Military Training Environment at Lackland compiled by Air Force Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, the Air Force Chief of Safety.

“Instead of the organizational culture being driven from the top down, we observed examples of leaders essentially insulated from, rather than engaged in, the daily training environment,” authors of the report wrote.

Since 2008 25 enlisted Military Training Instructors have been investigated and 49 women have been identified as victims.

Court martial charges ranging from inappropriate touching of women recruits to sexual assault and rape have been filed against 11 MTIs thus far. Five have been convicted and received sentences ranging from 30 days to 20 years.

Woodward’s report focused on changing a military culture in which sexual misconduct was often overlooked.

In some cases, trainers “relied too heavily on a culture of fear” to motivate recruits and failures in leadership encouraged “a culture where misconduct appeared to be tolerated,” Woodward said in the report.

“Sexual attraction, power, and money are three of the most corruptive elements of the human condition, and two of these three (sexual attraction and power) are present in the (basic training) environment,” the report said.

Lackland provides basic training to all Air Force recruits, and about 500 MTIs train 35,000 recruits, more than 20 percent of them women, each year. About 11 percent of the MTIs are women.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has made combating sexual misconduct in the military one of his top priotiries. More than 3,100 sexual assaults were reported in the military last year, but thousands of other victims fail to report abuses out of shame or fear of reprisals.

The Defense Department has estimated the actual number of assaults at about 19,000 a year based on anonymous surveys of the active-duty force in 2010.

One of the 46 recommendations in Woodward’s report was her call for a “wingman policy” in basic training in which women recruits would be accompanied by at least one female recruit at all times.

In the past, the failures of oversight at Lackland “created an environment where trainees were fearful of reporting instances of sexual assault, sexual harassment, unprofessional relationships, maltreatment, and maltraining because they were afraid of (instructor) reprisal, were fearful of punishment for their own misconduct, and in some cases, did not believe action would be taken against a perpetrator,” the report said.

“If we do not take steps to address these corruptive elements persistently and positively, we will find ourselves in the same situation at some point down the road,” according to the report.

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