More than 700 airmen, many of them on their first assignments in the Air Force, live in the dormitories at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

More than 700 airmen, many of them on their first assignments in the Air Force, live in the dormitories at Aviano Air Base, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Before handing over the keys to all the dorm rooms on base, the 31st Fighter Wing has decided to take a closer look at the airmen who carry those key chains.

Lt. Col. Greg Brown, commander of the 31st Mission Support Squadron, said last week the base would conduct background checks on prospective candidates for dorm managers in the wake of the court-martial conviction last month of Staff Sgt. Duane Forehand.

Forehand — one of five dorm managers for eight domitories on base — was convicted Feb. 9 of three specifications of indecent assault, three specifications of housebreaking and one specification of peeping.

According to evidence presented in his court-martial, Forehand entered the dorm rooms of young male servicemembers on three occasions and touched their legs or genitals. Each servicemember had been drinking and was sleeping during the early morning.

Forehand, who had access to keys for every dorm room at Aviano, was sentenced to six years in prison.

Base officials said they never would have chosen Forehand as a dorm manager if they had known his background, which included a 2001 lewd-conduct conviction in California while he was assigned to the Defense Finance Accounting Service in San Bernardino.

He also was suspected of another housebreaking and indecent assault at Osan Air Base, South Korea, in 2002. The Osan incident was included in his court-martial at Aviano.

Command Chief Master Sgt. Pamela Lane said the wing already had a detailed selection process in place, but decided it needed refining. Previously, airmen were nominated by their squadrons to become dorm managers, interviewed for the position, and received a cursory check, she said.

Now, background checks will involve security forces personnel using the Defense Clearance and Investigations Index – the central Defense Department record of “investigative files and adjudicative actions, such as clearances and access determinations, revocations, and denials concerning military, civilian, and contract personnel,” according to the Air Force.

“We take it very seriously,” Lane said. “Some of our airmen (in the dorms) are our youngest and most vulnerable airmen.”

Brown said Forehand’s files, forwarded with him from previous assignments, contained no warning signs of previous misbehavior.

“Sgt. Forehand came to us with no indicators,” Brown said, adding that previous commanders have several avenues to pass along such information. His enlisted performance reports were glowing.

It wasn’t until Forehand was charged at Aviano that the other crimes came to light. The Air Force only found out about the California lewd-conduct conviction after querying the FBI about his background, which is standard practice once an airman has been charged with a crime.

The investigation into the incident at Osan was closed before Forehand came to Aviano, said Capt. Christopher Schubbe, one of the prosecutors at his court-martial. He said the normal procedure for such investigations is for security forces to investigate, then forward a report to the airman’s commander.

Legal officials at Osan did not respond to a Stars and Stripes query on the incident.

“I can’t speak on what happened at Osan,” Schubbe said.

“Clearly, Sgt. Forehand lived a double life,” said Schubbe, who argued during the sentencing phase of the trial that Forehand might have been a model airmen at work, but had a different side that he showed “in a hooded sweatshirt” at night.

One victim of Forehand’s assaults testified at the trial that he had lost some faith in the military’s ability to protect him. He said he would soon be leaving the service. The other two victims have already left.

“I don’t know how he got through the cracks,” the servicemember testified.

Airmen say they feel safe in their dorms

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — The court-martial conviction of a dorm manager last month doesn’t appear to have caused a lot of anxiety in the dormitories at Aviano.

A handful of residents said they felt secure living in their rooms on base — though most would choose to live off base if given the option.

“I feel safe,” said Airman 1st Class Amanda Baty, who had heard of the court-martial of Staff Sgt. Duane Forehand. Forehand received a six-year prison term after being convicted of three counts of indecent assault.

Baty, 20, from Loop, Texas, said she sometimes has a hard time getting sleep. But not because she doesn’t feel safe.

“They like to party downstairs,” she said with a smile.

“I feel pretty safe,” said Airman 1st Class Joshua Cabrera, who has only been at Aviano for about three weeks. The security forces member said he hadn’t heard of the incidents. “I’m from New York, so I’m naturally pretty careful.”

Senior Airman Justin Davis said he was aware of the incidents.

“I’ve never had a concern,” he said. “Even after that, I wasn’t worried.”

He noted that the victims had all been drinking heavily, leaving themselves somewhat vulnerable.

“I don’t drink, so I think I’d know quickly if something was happening to me.”

— Kent Harris

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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