BILOXI, Miss. -- Tech. Sgt. Bobby Bass took the stand Tuesday afternoon during the sentencing phase of his court-martial on charges of assault and abuse while he was a basic training instructor at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio in 2009.
Earlier Tuesday, a jury convicted him on 31 of 35 counts, most stemming from his work as a drill instructor over fresh recruits.
"I know there were a lot of bad things said about me," the 13-year veteran told the jury. "But I have many trainees that have done great things in the Air Force. I love the Air Force."
According to military law, Bass faces 33 years in prison, but the prosecution asked the jury for two years, a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force and a reduction to the lowest rank.
Capt. Rebecca Magnone, assistant prosecutor in the case, told the jury the government wants Bass to serve time to assure he "takes responsibility for his crimes, so he can understand these crimes are not a joke."
"What he did was dishonorable," she said. "The record should reflect that dishonor."
During the trial, witnesses described humiliating treatment. They told how they as young trainees, all males, were crowded into a shower naked, ordered to vote out one of their own and ordered to laugh at their trainee leaders forced to exercise in their underwear. Fourteen testified to the shower incidents, among other things. Two said Bass slammed them against a wall and two told of being ordered to put Icy Hot on their genitals as punishment. One was required to shave his body and another Bass kicked in the chest as the recruit was doing pushups.
A jury of two officers and six enlisted personnel convicted Bass of 13 counts of cruelty and hazing, two counts of abusive sexual contact for the Icy Hot incidents, four counts of assault and eight of dereliction of duty, among others.
The sentencing portion of the proceedings began midday Tuesday with testimony from two of the trainees under Bass who washed out and didn't make it in the Air Force. They described being confident going into basic training and then being broken.
"Afterwards, I was just trying to get through it," one told the jury.
The other said he had an idea what the military was and what he would become.
"It broke everything I believed would happen," he said, then blushed, paused and was quiet for a time before questioning continued. "It totally turned around. I didn't know what to expect next."
He said he finally came to question, "What it the point of this?"
That trainee was later discharged from the Air Force for academic failure.
The prosecution drove home to the jury that these were young men in their late teens, whose mothers and fathers entrusted them to the Air Force.
Bass was a basic training instructor for more than four years at Lackland, where the Air Force conducts all its basic training. The testimony against him came from one basic training group. He had overseen as many as 16 groups.
His court-martial was held at Keesler AFB because that's where he is stationed now. It is the first case connected with the 2012 basic training sex scandal at Lackland to be tried somewhere other than Lackland.
Of the base's 450 to 500 instructors, 33 have come under investigation. Fourteen, including Bass, have been convicted. Courts-martial are pending for eight. Most of the cases have been male instructors and female trainees.
Bass and his wife, Patrice Bass, testified they married soon after high school, have four children and believe in the military.
Patrice Bass cried, holding her face in her hands at one point.
"I am here to be strong for our children," she said. "We don't know what's going to happen.
"All I know is the Air Force. All I know is Bobby."
He wiped tears from his face when she spoke and at times when he addressed the jury.
From the stand, he said to his wife, "I'm sorry for the pain. I owe you so much more for your sacrifices. I'll make it right."
The jury deliberated Bass' sentence for about an hour Tuesday evening before adjourning. Deliberations will resume today at 8 a.m.
Bass' assistant defense attorney, Capt. David Cromwell, asked the jury to consider Bass' military record, his service and his four deployments. He asked that Bass not receive a dishonorable discharge and said he is no longer an instructor or his behavior a threat.
"A mistake made in isolation," Cromwell said, "should not deprive him of everything."