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Lackland scandal spurs new life skills training course

SAN ANTONIO — Air Force recruits at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland will spend up to a week after graduating from basic training learning a variety of life skills, including how to better protect themselves against sexual assault.

A “capstone course” tentatively set for rollout next year also will help newly minted airmen learn about suicides, as well as how to avoid mismanaging finances, an issue often tied to stress.

“Will anybody ever be fully prepared for everything they might experience in life? I venture to guess the answer to that is no, you have to live some of life, you have to live and experience our Air Force,” Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody said Thursday.

“But there are certainly some things that we can do, and we will do that are going to better prepare them,... giving them some understanding about what is about to happen or could happen,” he said.

The course will be the latest in a series of changes in basic training in the wake of a sex scandal at Lackland that's the worst in Air Force history, triggering congressional hearings and helping drive major changes in military law.

In the past few years, the Air Force has investigated 34 basic training instructors for misconduct with 68 recruits and technical school students. Twenty-six instructors have been convicted, with one getting 20 years in prison.

Since the scandal erupted, Lackland has installed more security cameras in its dorms, assigned two instructors to each group of recruits so one never is left alone with the trainees, and has begun to assign more senior instructors to basic training.

Officials believe the measures are making a difference. No instructors have been accused of assault this year.

Few details about the plan are known, including exactly when it might begin at Lackland, but Cody said a curriculum is being developed by officials in Washington and the service's Air Education and Training Command in San Antonio.

The idea is to build upon foundations laid during the Air Force's fast-paced basic-training course, which include alerting trainees to the threat of sexual assault. But capstone, to be held after basic-training graduation, aims to offer a more relaxed environment where airmen could delve deeper into thorny issues like sexual assault.

Experts from inside and outside the Air Force have worked to shape the curriculum, Cody said, and civilians will be a part of the instruction when the course starts at Lackland.

The decision marks a major change in the Air Force's training cycle, and the first since basic training was lengthened from 6½ to 8½ weeks in 2008. While the duration of basic training won't change, with airmen graduating on Friday mornings, they will start the capstone course the following Monday.

They now ship out to technical training schools directly after graduation. With the change, they instead will stay at Lackland for the extra course.

Colleen McGee, a spokeswoman for Lackland's 37th Training Wing, said the base will have no problem keeping the graduates another week because it has two new dorms that each are capable of handling 1,200 recruits, and a third facility will open early next year. The capstone class size will vary, she said, with between 400 and 800 students at a time.

The Air Force long has had a first-term airman's school in place that briefed young troops on some of the same issues. It was put in place under then-Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters, who served during President Bill Clinton's second term, because of concerns that airmen needed structure in dealing with such basic skills as managing money and dealing with sexual harassment.

“You've got to realize, a lot of these kids ... are in fact away from home for the first time and a lot of them have never had a checkbook, a lot of them never had an income,” Peters said.

Capstone was touted by Cody's office as being more detailed and layered, focusing on dignity and character-building, than the airman's school, which is still in place.

The Air Force continues to stress its core values, created by now-retired Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Ronald Fogleman, but no longer uses a manual he developed, the “Little Blue Book.”

Cody said there has been discussion of bringing veteran airmen to the capstone course, perhaps Silver Star recipients, to underscore the importance of the Air Force's core values — “Integrity,” “Service before self” and “Excellence in all we do.”

“I would not tolerate any form of prejudice or abuse or harassment based on race, religion, and the basis for this one was very simple,” Fogleman said. “In an organization, for it to function properly, everybody has to be able to perform at their full potential, and somebody who is either being harassed racially, sexually or religiously cannot possibly perform at their highest potential.”

sigc@express-news.net
 

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