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Air Force changes policy to address sexual assault, misconduct

Basic trainees march to the parade grounds for their graduation from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

WASHINGTON — The Air Force’s scandal-plagued basic military training program needs more female trainers, tighter screening and control of instructors and better leadership, according to a report presented Wednesday at the Pentagon.

The report follows an investigation of numerous counts of sexual misconduct and sexual assault between 2010 and 2011 by military trainers at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where all new Air Force recruits receive initial training.

The investigation did not look into crimes that might have taken place before October 2010.

Five trainers have been convicted of sexual assault or unprofessional relationships, out of 25 who have been accused. The Air Force meanwhile has identified 49 female victims, 13 of whom were victims of sexual assault, reported Gen. Edward Rice, commander of Air Education and Training Command.

“The misconduct discovered at [basic military training] tears at the foundational trust and core values that hold the Air Force together,” Rice’s report said.

Rice said the Air Force is instituting 45 policy changes recommended by Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, who investigated Air Force training in the wake of the Lackland scandal.

They include:

  • The percentage of female military training instructors will be raised to 25 percent match the gender balance of recruits.
  • Training instructors must now hold the higher rank of technical sergeant instead of staff sergeant.
  • Greater screening of trainers, including mental health evaluations, will take place.
  • Instructors’ 16-hour duty days will be shortened by doubling the number of instructors per training flight.
  • Each training squadron will have more supervising officers.
  • Trainees must move with a “wingman” rather than alone when not involved in group activities.
  • Procedures for reporting abuse or sexual assault will be strengthened, and the Air Force will assign more sexual assault response coordinators to basic military training.
  • At recruiting offices and at Lackland, new Air Force personnel will be briefed on sexual assault prevention, sexual harassment and unprofessional relationships.

The Air Force is taking additional measures not suggested by Woodward, including a plan to “establish a set of metrics to help us better understand the effectiveness of our actions and where adjustments can to be made to improve our performance,” the report said.

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An advocate for military victims of sexual assault said Woodward’s report mirrors many of the reforms other services have instituted. But those actions have done little to address the underlying problem of sexual violence and predation in the military, said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders.

“We compliment her for a thoughtful and thorough report, however, the reforms proposed will not fix the systemic and cultural legal biases within the chain of command and the military justice system,” Parrish said.

Some of the reform measures – like a sexual assault hotlines – should help, but others may not, she said.

“Increasing the rank and professionalism required sounds like a good thing,” she said. “But it also creates even more of a power differential in the [trainer-trainee] relationship.”

Ultimately, Parrish said, the problem of military sexual violence and misogyny is too big to solve in an Air Force report. “Congress needs to do its job of oversight here.”

Email: Carrollc@stripes.com
Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

 

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