Air Force General Charged with Sexual Assault Requests Retirement Instead of Facing Court-Martial

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, 19th Air Force commander, speaks to the audience after receiving the unit guidon during the 19th Air Force change of command ceremony Aug. 19, 2022, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jonathan Mallard)

A two-star general who was relieved from command of the 19th Air Force at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas last year amid charges of sexual assault and other crimes is seeking to retire instead of facing a court-martial.

Maj. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart's attorney -- Jeffrey Addicott, a professor of law and director of the Warrior Defense Project at St. Mary's University School of Law -- told late Thursday evening that they "submitted a request for retirement in lieu of court-martial" earlier in the week. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall will be in charge of approving or denying the request.

"When you have a retirement request in lieu of court-martial then that will be approved by the Secretary of the Air Force," Addicott said. "And then you have a grade determination board to determine what grade you're going to retire at."

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Stewart's case marks the second time in history that a U.S. Air Force general officer has been formally charged with a sexual crime. A projected start date for the trial is June 17.

In May, Air Education and Training Command announced that Stewart was being removed from his role as commander of the 19th Air Force "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead, related to alleged misconduct which is currently under investigation." In October, he then faced an Article 32 hearing -- a preliminary hearing similar to a grand jury proceeding for civilians.

Addicott told in December that the judge for the Article 32 hearing had recommended that the sexual assault charges be dropped and the other charges not go to trial, but Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, head of Air Education and Training Command, referred the charges to a court-martial.

"They rendered a report saying that, in his opinion, he recommended to the convening authority that the more serious charges ... not go forward at all, and that the other charges be disposed of administratively against Gen. Stewart," Addicott said in December. "That was his recommendation. It wasn't followed. ... It's highly unusual that convening authorities do not follow what the Article 32 officer recommends."

Starting Dec. 28, the Department of the Air Force's Office of Special Trial Counsel became fully operational and was tasked with investigation and prosecution of 14 categories of offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including sex-related crimes. Had Stewart faced charges this year, that office would have recommended whether the charges should face court-martial instead of the head of Air Education and Training Command.

A redacted charge sheet provided to in October by Air Education and Training Command outlines the alleged misconduct.

Under the dereliction of duty charge, Stewart is accused of failing to refrain from "pursuing an unprofessional relationship." Additionally, the charge sheet details that he allegedly "failed to refrain from assuming control of an aircraft after consuming alcohol within 12 hours prior to takeoff."

Regarding the sexual assault charges, Stewart is alleged to have committed a sex act on a person at or near Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma "without her consent."

Stewart is also alleged to have committed conduct unbecoming an officer near Denver, Colorado, "while on official travel," where he allegedly wrongfully invited an individual to "spend the night alone with him in his private hotel room," the charge sheet adds.

Stewart also faces an extramarital sexual conduct charge.

The charge sheet redacts the names of those involved in the alleged incidents. does not identify victims of sexual assault.

"Just as in civilian proceedings, Stewart is presumed innocent until proven otherwise by competent legal authority," Marilyn Holliday, a spokesperson for Air Education and Training Command, said in an emailed statement.

It's rare for general officers to face court-martial. The first Air Force general to face court-martial proceedings was Maj. Gen. Donald Kaufman in 1992 over allegations that he took war trophies from the Persian Gulf War and went on unnecessary temporary-duty trips, Stars and Stripes reported. He was arraigned, but the case was dismissed and he did not face a jury. Kaufman was demoted in rank to colonel through nonjudicial punishment and allowed to retire.

In 2022, Maj. Gen. William Cooley, formerly the head of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, was convicted of abusive sexual contact in a court-martial. He was the first-ever Air Force general to be tried for sexual crimes and convicted in a court-martial.

Military judge Col. Christina Jimenez sentenced Cooley to forfeit $10,910 of pay for five months, and he was given a letter of reprimand from the court-martial convening authority, then-Air Force Materiel Command chief Gen. Arnold Bunch. Cooley was not sentenced to jail.

Cooley had faced a maximum sentence of seven years of confinement, separation, and loss of pay and benefits. He retired as a colonel.

Stewart was commissioned in 1992 through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps after graduating from the Georgia Institute of Technology, according to his official Air Force biography. He served as an instructor and evaluator pilot in multiple aircraft, and he holds the rating of command pilot with more than 2,600 flying hours. He also has 600 hours of combat time over 168 combat missions.

The 19th Air Force has more than 30,000 personnel and 1,530 aircraft assigned to 17 wings located across the country. In his role, Stewart was responsible for more than 45% of the Air Force's annual flying-hour program, according to his biography.

Prior to his role with the 19th Air Force, he served as the deputy chief of staff for strategic employment at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium.

Maj. Gen. Clark Quinn assumed command of the 19th Air Force on June 5, nearly a month after Stewart's firing.

Related: Second Air Force General Ever to Be Charged with Sexual Assault Will Face Court-Martial

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