Widening Sex Scandal Rocks Texas Air Force Base

Air Force alleged sexual abuseBy Paul J. Weber

From a chapel pulpit on Lackland Air Force Base, where every American airman reports for basic training, Col. Glenn Palmer delivered his first order to nearly 600 recruits seated in the pews: If you're sexually harassed or assaulted, tell someone.

"My job is to give you a safe, effective training environment," Palmer said firmly. What the colonel did not mention directly in his recent address was a widening sex scandal that has rocked the base, one of the nation's busiest military training centers. Allegations that male instructors had sex with, and in one case raped, female trainees have led to criminal charges against four men. Charges against others are possible.

The most serious accusations surround an Air Force staff sergeant scheduled to face a court-martial in July on charges that include rape and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. The other three defendants were charged with lesser crimes ranging from sexual misconduct to adultery. All of the defendants were assigned to turn raw recruits into airmen in eight weeks of basic training.

A two-star general is now investigating alongside a separate criminal probe, which military prosecutors say could sweep up more airmen. Advocates for female service members and members of Congress have started taking notice.

"It's a pretty big scandal the Air Force is having to deal with at this point," said Greg Jacob, a former Marine infantry officer and policy director of the Service Women's Action Network. "It's pretty substantial in its scope."

Yet there are signs that the Air Force still doesn't have a handle on the full depth of the problem. Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado pleaded guilty earlier this month to having sex with a female trainee and struck a plea deal for 90 days' confinement. Then he acknowledged being involved with a total of 10 trainees -- a number previously unknown to investigators.

On Friday, after months of embarrassing disclosures, the head of the Air Force's training command ordered Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward to lead an independent investigation. That same day, the Air Force gave reporters rare access to Lackland's instructional headquarters in an effort to show that there was nothing to hide.

The headquarters facility is where Lackland trains the people who train recruits. Inside one small classroom, three women and two men were lectured on the importance of having a moral compass while watching a slide presentation titled "Integrity First."

Lackland has about 475 instructors for the nearly 36,000 airmen who will graduate this year. That's about 85 percent of what Lackland would consider a full roster of instructors, a demanding job that requires airmen to work longer hours than most for four years, at the expense of family and personal time. The Air Force recently launched a smartphone app to help recruit instructors. Topping a page of frequently asked questions is whether the divorce rate for instructors really is higher. (The Air Force says no.)

Palmer said that a slight shortage in instructors has not lowered the standards for applicants. In response to the allegations, he said instructor training is being revamped and that he was accountable for problems within the training wing.

Leaders of the instructor program, however, said the responsibility falls on the accused.

"A person sitting in that seat, they're going to do what they're going to do when no one is watching," said Master Sgt. Greg Pendleton, who oversees the training. "That's across the board. That's just them. When we're outside this door or outside these walls, there are individuals that have their own personal values."

So widespread is the fallout that Lackland halted operations for an entire day in March to survey about 5,900 trainees about whether they had seen or been a victim of sexual misconduct.

It was a highly unusual move for a vast 15-square-mile base that runs with relentless efficiency. A new class of airmen graduates every Friday for 50 of the 52 weeks in the year. At first, Palmer, commander of the 737th training wing, said that he wasn't sure that halting training was even possible.

Airman Andrea Madison, a new graduate who was in basic training at the height of the investigation at Lackland, said that she never felt uncomfortable with her instructors.

"They want to make sure no foul play is happening, no one is taking advantage of us," said Madison, of Columbus, Ohio.

Last week, one commander of a Lackland training squadron caught up in the sex scandal was dismissed after the Air Force lost confidence in his leadership. Col. Polly Kenny said the dismissal was not directly related to the sexual misconduct investigation.

Nearly three dozen instructors at Lackland have also been removed in the past year, but the Air Force will not say how many lost their jobs as a result of the investigation that began last fall, only that the majority of dismissals were unrelated.

The first sexual misconduct allegations at Lackland surfaced a year ago against Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, who is charged with 28 counts.

Walker, the only instructor who has been accused of sexually assaulting another airman, faces life in prison if convicted. His civilian attorney, Joseph Esparza, has declined to speak with reporters and did not return multiple calls for comment.

Sexual assault victims are reassigned and can apply for a "humanitarian discharge" from the military, but Lackland civilian spokeswoman Collen McGhee said she did not know whether those affected by this case had done so.

Widening Sex Scandal Rocks Texas Air Force Base

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It's been some 38 years since I went through Basic Training at Lackland AFB, after having lived in San Antonio, Texas for my senior year of high school.

Today, 38 years later, God has brought me a long way, where I am currently a member of the First Baptist Church of Orlando, where Dr. David Uth is our Senior Pastor.

June 28 2012 at 4:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Things like this happen everyday in the civillian world. Why is it such a scandal when it happens in the military? After all the folks in the military did come from the civillian side. Not news!!!!!!

June 28 2012 at 1:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If gay men can serve openly in the Air Force without incident, then for God sakes, why can't straight men behave themselves with Women Airman around. Nothing makes sense.

June 28 2012 at 1:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hmmmmmmmmmm, who is the CIC? It sure isnt Bush!

June 28 2012 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was in the USAF between 1966 to 1970. However,
during basic training, we had no females (wafs) in
our barracks as they were the open, old style army
type barracks. Even as boots, we heard of incidents
where TI's got busted out for one reason or another.
When you have that many people in one place, you are
bound to have a few that will do something wrong. We
had a sgt. that lived in our barracks, but, was not
our TI. He came in drunk one night and pushed around
one of our boots that was on guard duty. As we were
instructed, he called out for help by wailing on a
whistle. Two air policemen showed up and actually
busted the sgt. The guard had nothing to say about
it and would have gotten into trouble had he not
reported it. There was no cover up - the sgt. was
reduced down in rank and punished. Sexual harrasment
is different then sexsual abuse. I mean in boot camp
you have to expect that a TI is going to get into your
face (usually one ear)and rag on you, sometimes saying
some pretty brutal stuff. Now beating you up, or
having sex with someone, especially a trainee (boot),
is something else. Do some get away with it, yes.
But, sooner or later, something happens, and the
axe comes down.

June 28 2012 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe next the Marines will investigate their alleged cases of rape (Sixty Minutes)

June 27 2012 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This stuff is sickening, one more reason why females should not be in the military. The military does not protect them or take them too seriously. I am a 22 yr veteran, I have seen these probems progress throughout the years. KEEP THE DAMN FEMALES OUT!

June 27 2012 at 8:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Good more military crap, no different than the Catholic church.

June 27 2012 at 6:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

More than 50 years ago this was occurring at Lackland AFB. The female TIs would provide female trainees to male TIs who wanted to go off base and party. I found out about this when trainees wanted to become TIs after they completed basic training. One comment I heard was a female TI telling her trainees as we were marching by saying "when I hell attention, I want to hear 50 ******* ******* air" and "there is 50 miles of dick on this base and you are not going to get one inch until you straighten up".
The allegations are nothing new. For 52 years it has been business as usual. Lets face it, sex makes the world go around.

June 27 2012 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to gshiff40's comment

This story is not about sex. It's about rape.

June 27 2012 at 6:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You are right. I served in the U S Army for 23 years. This is not new. Sexual harrasment has been going on long before I was drafted. It will never stop. It is initiated by both men and women. The difference is women tell when it is done by someone that they do not like. Guys just laugh. I remember a female soldier in the NCO club beckoned to me to come , and that she had something to tell me.""'Come closer she said. When I leaned over so that she could whisper as she indicated. She grabbed a hand full of my private patrts, as her friend held me from behind. Another time a female called me to her car she said "something is wrong with my guages. look at them for me", as I leaned over she raised her dress she was not wearing underwear. I could not tell anyone either time What an embarrasment.

June 27 2012 at 8:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mmwwil's comment

It's always been common knowledge that women joined the military to have a good time. We knew who the ***** were back in the sixties. They weren't drafted, they went voluntarily. There were some good ones, I grant you, but the majority were of questionable moral character.

June 27 2012 at 11:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

Meanwhile, everyone is so concerned about gays in the military? The problem is heterosexual rapists in the miltary, and has been for decades. It's a crime that is not only under-reported, but when it is reported, is often swept under the rug.

It's an outrage that female members of our armed services are for some reason considered of less value, and until the people in charge change the system of reporting, investigating and prosecuting, abuse is likely to continue.

June 27 2012 at 5:34 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Bully2's comment

This is happening all over the world.

June 27 2012 at 8:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I have known a few women who were straight and were attacked by Lesbian DI's
and were told that nothing would be done because the Army didn't want to let the
general public know that Lesbians were in positions of authority. The girls became
the playthings of these thugs and could have nothing done to stop it. The Military
was, at that time, selective of who they booted out for Homoisexuality. I also knew
of recruits in the AF that said that Homosexual NCOs were always trying to come on
to them. It works both ways Hetero- and Homosexual.

June 27 2012 at 11:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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