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In survey, Lackland drill instructors rip leaders, say they fear recruits

A group of basic trainees perform formation and parade drills in preparation of their graduation on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

SAN ANTONIO — A survey of basic-training instructors conducted during the worst sex scandal in Air Force history revealed a sharp distrust of senior commanders at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and a widespread fear of recruits.

In occasionally bitter comments, some instructors lashed out at basic-training leaders.

They talked of stressful working conditions and declining standards that had made training too easy, with recruits even saying they expected to have a harder time.

The survey, done last year and obtained this week by the San Antonio Express-News, revealed basic training remains haunted by recruit abuse and misconduct, the same issues that prompted a major makeover at Lackland.

Trainers and recruits reported that problems persist, but instructors also said changes designed to ensure that recruits couldn't be exploited by sergeants had gone too far, and many said they were sorry they had become instructors.

“I am terrified I'm going to have my career ended by a trainee that drops a comment because I hurt his feelings or they just don't like me,” one instructor wrote in the survey.

“Leadership does not back us up. At all,” the instructor continued. “I feel as though (basic training) is overcorrecting and it's actually making the Air Force worse.”

The Rand Corp. surveyed nearly 200 training instructors anonymously last summer as part of an overhaul of basic training driven by the scandal.

Trainees said instructors often were unsupervised and even worked together to prevent misdeeds from being reported.

Problems ranged from poor officer supervision of instructors to an understaffed MTI corps that worked long hours and rarely had a day off.

Lackland officials last fall said statistics showed the makeover had worked, with no new sexual misconduct cases had been filed against instructors.

Col. Mark Camerer, commander of Lackland's 37th Training Wing, said late Wednesday that changes had corrected a lack of oversight in training, but he conceded they hadn't come without trouble.

“We've gone a long ways to fixing the things that you're talking about,” he said, noting that surveys in January and April had produced “vastly different” results from Rand's report.

“So, were we in a tough spot in July of last year? Yes, we were,” he continued. “I need my MTIs to know we listen to them.”

Rand found that more than half of the instructor corps worked more than 11 hours a day last summer, and that two thirds of “street” MTIs — those who train recruit flights — slept five hours or less a day.

Another one-third of supervisors and other instructors also said they slept five hours or less a day.

Camerer said he was surprised to learn of the problem, but added that some instructors told him “they just didn't want to leave their flight.”

He said the instructors willingly put in extra hours to ensure their flights were properly trained, but a new rule required officer approval for MTIs working more than 10 hours a day.

A number of trainers shared the belief that the rules for handling recruits had shifted so dramatically that the trainees held more power than their instructors.

“I'll give it to you in a nutshell: trainees run this place, MTI's are afraid constantly of getting in trouble over hurting a spoiled 18-year-olds' feelings, and no one is willing to change that,” one instructor wrote.

Instructors also expressed concerns about interaction of Col. Deborah Liddick, commander of the 737th Training Group, with those running the group's eight training squadrons.

One said, “It is very apparent that she does not trust anyone who is an MTI and she continues to discredit the feedback given to her on decisions made.”

Other MTIs made similar comments. But Camerer said myriad changes were implemented since he and Liddick took command in fall 2012. Liddick wasn't available for comment.

“It's understandable that people in the organization, that that's stressful for them, and that they feel like they didn't get a lot of voice in that. Well, they didn't get a lot of voice in that,” Camerer. “Did we get it all right, a hundred percent? No? Is it all 100 percent correct today? No.”

sigc@express-news.net

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