Air Force Demotes Former General as IG Report Reveals Details of Illicit Affair

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Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten. Air Force photo
Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten. Air Force photo

The former general in charge of U.S. Air Force Warfare Center -- removed from command due to an alleged unprofessional relationship -- was demoted to colonel following an investigation into his behavior, according to an Air Force Inspector General report released Friday.

Maj. Gen Peter Gersten, head of the Warfare Center at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, retired as a colonel effective Jan. 1, spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told Military.com.

Gersten, she said, received what's known as an Article 15, the highest form of nonjudicial punishment.

Before an officer retires, he or she receives a Grade Determination Review Board which determines the "highest grade in which a [service member] served satisfactorily," according to the Defense Department.

"As a result of this investigation, [the board] determined he could retire at the grade of colonel," Stefanek said in a phone call.

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According to the redacted report, provided to Military.com, an investigation was launched following a complaint against Gersten alleging the former general had engaged in an adulterous relationship, a violation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The Air Force did not disclose the complainant, or the individual Gersten was alleged to have the relationship with. The Air Force only identified the woman as a subordinate member on his personal staff, with whom he had sexual intercourse between July 2018 until he was relieved of command in June 2019.

Gersten, an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, took command of the center in July 2017. A command pilot with more than 2,800 total flying hours, Gersten has flown over Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Bosnia. He has also flown the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-170 Sentinel drones and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to his official biography.

The complainant additionally alleged Gersten "had a reputation for engaging in inappropriate personal relationships with multiple women for the past ten years," a violation which falls under the UCMJ's prohibition on "Conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman."

The complaint was first made to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, then transferred to Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen Sami Said for action. Witness interviews began in June 2019, the report says.

Gersten declined to be interviewed for the investigation.

Around Nellis, Gersten's marriage was known to be "a touchy subject," according to one witness interviewed for the report. The service interviewed 24 witnesses; none were publicly identified.

A senior staff member, asking another member about Gersten's marital status, was once told that it was common knowledge Gersten was "dating" and had an encounter with "two other ladies that are not in our organization that he's supposedly slept with."

According to a timeline in the report, Gersten first began a relationship with someone other than his wife in 2010.

During her interview with AFOSI, the female staff member said she and Gersten began flirtations in May 2018 that escalated into a consensual relationship. She even considered him a mentor, according to her interview. She was not married at the time of her relationship with Gersten.

"It's not rapey, it's not controlling, it is not negative," she told AFOSI. She said she needed someone like Gersten "to help me understand what the United States Air Force is, and how to do my job better."

She added, "Physically there is a connection. I think he's very attractive ... he's a fly boy." She acknowledged she knew he was still married.

Gersten, who married in 1991, got divorced in December 2018. He and his wife formally separated in May 2017.

On one particular visit from a Colombian air force leader in July 2018, the female staff member recalled how she and Gersten met up after the meeting and had sex in the Distinguished Visitor, or DV, quarters, high-fiving once they were done. Later that year, she disclosed this to a colleague, who was interviewed for the report.

The two also exchanged "graphic" text messages for months, another witness said. An additional witness who overheard text messages being read aloud in the office said they were "offensive" and took note of the code name the female staff member had for Gersten: "Big Daddy."

Witnesses -- who said they were "grossed out" and found Gersten's behavior "embarrassing" -- said the female staff member's demeanor changed when she found out her teammates were aware of her connection to Gersten. As a result, they said, she became less professional around other leadership.

At one point, the female staffer and Gersten believed they were being blackmailed because of their relationship, witnesses said. In March 2019, the female's staff member's house was egged.

The report notes that once a formal investigation launched in the spring of 2019, the female staffer turned over a number of text message conversations to authorities.

Based on the text exchanges and witness testimony, the IG concluded Gersten was legally married to his wife while in an unprofessional relationship -- directly in violation of Article 134, the statute against adultery.

Through his counsel, Gersten denied he was in violation of Article 134.

The IG also substantiated claims Gersten had three separate inappropriate relationships between 2010 and 2019, in violation of Article 133, conduct unbecoming. Two of the women were civilians, the report said.

Witnesses recalled conversations with Gersten's wife, who acknowledged the couple did not live together at one point in 2016 and were in counseling. At the time, Gersten was the director of strategic plans at the office of the deputy chief of staff for Strategic Plans and Requirements for the Air Force at the Pentagon.

Gersten's counsel said Gersten "categorically denied" his relationship with the civilian women, but admitted to the other relationship. He was a brigadier general between 2011 and 2015.

On June 2, 2019, Gen. Mike Holmes, then head of Air Combat Command, personally relieved Gersten of command while at a CORONA meeting with top officials at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Gersten admitted to his relationship with his subordinate, replying to Holmes, "I slept with [her]. People make mistakes."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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