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Air Force Academy superintendent briefs oversight board on rebuilding sexual assault response staff

Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., arrives for a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on May, 2, 2017.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By TOM ROEDER | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: July 29, 2017

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — The Air Force Academy is working with the Pentagon to rebuild the school's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office after two-thirds of its staff were suspended amid an investigation last month.

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson offered a sparse description Friday to the school's civilian oversight board of what led to the suspension of four of the office's six employees. But the brief statement added more detail to the school's previous explanation which attributed the suspensions to undisclosed "issues."

"The office mismanagement and the mistreatment of each other, as soon as we got signals of that, we took action," said Johnson, who is leaving the academy and retiring from the Air Force next month.

Johnson declined to offer the oversight panel, which reports to the Pentagon, more on the suspensions calling it a "personnel matter."

The suspensions in the academy office came days before a team of Pentagon sexual assault prevention experts arrived at the academy for an annual examination of the school's programs.

A Pentagon report released in March showed the Air Force Academy topped the nation's military academies in the number of cadets' reports of sexual assaults. Air Force had 32 in the academic year that ended last June, down from 49 a year earlier. Army had 26 reports, up from 17 a year earlier, and Navy had 28 reports, up from 25 the previous year.

Johnson downplayed the impacts of suspensions in the sexual assault response office, saying others at the school, from doctors to chaplains, continue to serve rape victims.

"The network of care is something we have been proud to build," she said.

In the absence of most of the sexual assault program staff, the academy has relied on volunteers and sexual assault prevention experts from Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases.

The academy is looking to the Pentagon for assistance in fixing the school's sexual assault prevention office.

"They are going to work with us in rebuilding," she said.

It will be months before the Pentagon releases its report on what its experts found at the academy. The results on an investigation ordered by Johnson has also not been released.

Johnson has long said that the media and others unfairly target the academy when issues arise like the problems at the sexual assault prevention office.

"We're really good, but we're not perfect and people like to focus on the not perfect part," she told the board.

The advisory board has no direct authority over Johnson and the academy, but can issue recommendations to Air Force leaders, Defense Secretary James Mattis and President Donald Trump.

Johnson's staff delivered plenty of good news to the board on Friday.

Topping the list is a decline in the number of disciplinary problems at the school, which fell to the lowest level in a decade.

In the past academic year, 80 of the school's 4,000 cadets were reported for violating the school's honor code, which forbids lying, cheating, stealing and tolerating those actions in classmates. Of the 80, 40 were determined to have broken the code.

During the same academic year, 41 cadets were disciplined for alcohol-related offenses and 83 were cited for other violations.

Vice Commandant of Cadets Col. John Price said the numbers show that only a tiny fraction of academy cadets misbehave.

"We're talking ... 1 (percent) to 2 percent," he said.

Johnson's replacement, Maj. Gen. Jay Silveria, attended the meeting, but did not comment. He'll take an active role after he assumes command on Aug 11.

Johnson said she's leaving a school that's on a path to future success.

"We're in a climb," she said.

©2017 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Visit The Gazette at www.gazette.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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