Fired Air Force Mobility Wing Commander Accepts Plea Deal

Col. John O. Howard. Air Force photo
Col. John O. Howard. Air Force photo

The U.S. Air Force has reached a plea deal with a former mobility wing commander previously charged with sexual assault, maltreatment and cruelty, among other offenses.

The service last week announced that Col. John Howard, the former 375th Air Mobility Wing commander at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, received non-judicial punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for conduct unbecoming an officer and fraternization with a junior enlisted airman.

Howard accepted non-judicial punishment in a pretrial agreement reached July 2, the 18th Air Force said in a release Thursday. The appeals process associated with the non-judicial punishment finished on Sept. 10.

It is unclear what the parameters of Howard's non-judicial punishment are, but he could be subject to forfeiture or reduction in pay, reprimand or restriction, additional duties and/or a reduction in rank.

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In June, the Air Force charged Howard with two specifications of cruelty and maltreatment; two specifications of sexual assault; one specification of conduct unbecoming an officer; and one specification of fraternization.

The victim in this case, not named for privacy reasons, did not wish to participate in the court-martial, the Air Force said Thursday.

"After much consideration, my client has decided not to testify in the ... court-martial proceeding," said Capt. Lauren Kerby, Special Victims' Counsel Judge Advocate, in a statement. "For my client, an expeditious resolution honoring her desire not to participate in a court-martial while still holding Colonel Howard accountable for his actions is justice."

As a result, former commander of the 18th Air Force Lt. Gen. Giovanni Tuck accepted the pretrial agreement based on written testimony provided by the victim through the Special Victims' Counsel, the release said.

An Article 32 hearing had been scheduled for July, but was postponed to allow for additional time to consider the facts of the case, 18th Air Force spokesman Capt. Ryan DeCamp said at the time. Howard was relieved of command in December in the midst of an Air Force Office of Special Investigations probe for what officials at the time said were sexual misconduct allegations.

Howard's attorney said there had not been any sexual misconduct in this case, and that those charges had been dropped after the defense was prepared to present evidence that showed communications from the alleged victim to Howard, according to Air Force Times.

"There was no sexual assault in this case, period," said defense attorney Richard Stevens.

Stevens said this new evidence uncovered by the defense had contradicted the sexual assault allegation, according to the Air Force Times report.

"Now Col. Howard and his family can begin to heal from the very public airing of this false sexual assault allegation," Stevens said.

According to a charge sheet provided to Military.com in June, the alleged offenses pertain to encounters Howard was accused of having with a senior airman, whose name was redacted from the document.

Between July and September 2016 at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, United Kingdom, Howard allegedly committed cruelty and maltreatment by "rubbing his groin" against the senior airman's torso; saying ,"every time I see you, there it is," alluding to his becoming erect; and saying his penis is "too big" to hide, or words to that effect, the document said.

Howard also allegedly said, "you're making me hard," and that he had to be careful because his erection could be visible through his pants, or words to that effect, it said.

Less than a year later while stationed in Bangor, Maine, Howard is alleged to have sexually assaulted a senior airman by penetrating her with his tongue. Howard also allegedly penetrated her mouth with his penis, without her consent.

Howard also allegedly committed conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman between March 2016 and November 2017 by wrongfully and dishonorably engaging in unprofessional conduct with the senior airman, as well as fraternizing with enlisted persons, the charges said.

Prior to becoming the 375th commander in July, Howard was the vice commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, for roughly two years.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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