Breedlove takes hard line on sexual predators in the Air Force
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The Air Force-wide search for porn and other inappropriate materials was unprecedented in the recollection of the service’s top officer in Europe, a fighter pilot with 35 years’ experience.
“I think it takes a lot of courage to take something like this on across the Air Force – every place, everybody,” Gen. Philip Breedlove, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa commander, said Thursday.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III ordered the so-called health and welfare inspections of all work spaces and public areas for pictures, calendars and other materials that objectify women or men or detract from a professional environment.
The inspections last month in USAFE took about three days per base and were so thorough that inspectors needed top-secret security clearances to look for items in highly classified areas, including fighter squadron intelligence vaults and shared military network drives, Breedlove said.
“We looked at all of these places where people live, function and work,” Breedlove said in an interview with Stars and Stripes. That included dormitory common rooms, drawers of desks shared by airmen in a unit, and even the offices of wing commanders and of Breedlove.
Across USAFE, 19 items considered “pornographic” were found, according to the Air Force’s overall inspection report, which was released Friday. More prevalent were materials deemed “inappropriate/offensive” — 124 — and “unprofessional” — 289, according to the report.
“I would characterize my reaction to the USAFE findings as good — better than I expected, quite frankly,” Breedlove said.
The USAFE section of the Air Force report didn’t go into the level of detail that some of the other commands did. Welsh wanted to know the number and categories of the items found, and the type of squadron, but he didn’t require commands to report the findings in a specific format, USAFE spokeswoman Maj. Beverly Mock said.
Breedlove gave this example of something inappropriate: A cheerleader poster or calendar “that doesn’t show nudity, but comes within four threads of it.”
The purpose wasn’t “finding out who did it,” Breedlove said of the items targeted by the inspections, but “getting the environment right for our airmen. Removing it, trashing it, and in some cases, if it was personal property, giving it back.”
Airmen had little advance notice, if any, of the inspections, Breedlove said.
“In several cases, we had our teams at the bases on the day when it was announced and the inspections began,” he said. “I wouldn’t characterize this as a big sneak attack, but clearly the chief’s intent was our commands would not go up and clean up their act and then have an inspection.
Breedlove doesn’t expect there to be more service-wide sweeps, but he said Welsh has directed that commands make this “a recurring item to watch for,” he said.
USAFE is reviewing its data for trends, looking at which units might need more education or training on how to maintain a professional environment, Breedlove said.
Breedlove is also taking a hard line against would-be sexual predators.
“I’ve got no time for this blue-on-blue fratricide, where we have predators preying on fellow airmen,” he said. During his first base visits since taking charge of USAFE in July, he’s been spreading the message “every airman a sensor.” He wants airmen to intervene if they see another airman trying to sexually take advantage of someone — and tell a supervisor or even him about it.
The idea, he said is to “put some of these people on notice that ‘you are not right’ and ‘I am watching you like a hawk’ and ‘you step out of line, you are out of my Air Force.’ ”
Breedlove’s 24-year-old daughter, Rebecca, is a second lieutenant in the Air Force.
“I have a personal stake in this,” he said. “I don’t want her to feel threatened. I know she’s superb. I don’t want her abilities to be curbed because of a workplace environment.”