Wingman Rule to Curb Sex Abuse Is Adopted by Air Force

By David Lerman

A “wingman policy” requiring Air Force trainees to be accompanied by at least one classmate at all times is among rules the service said it has adopted after an inquiry found a sex-abuse scandal at a Texas base is wider than previously acknowledged.

An investigation has identified 23 alleged offenders and 48 alleged victims of either sexual assault or “an unprofessional relationship” at the base, according to a report released today by the Air Education and Training Command. That compares with 15 possible offenders and 38 victims the Air Force said it was looking into in August.

Five military training instructors at the Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, have been convicted of sexual assaults or unprofessional relationships with trainees or students, according to the report. Other instructors remain under investigation or have charges pending.

Lackland, one of the military’s busiest training centers, provides basic training to all Air Force recruits. About 500 instructors train about 35,000 cadets annually. About 22 percent of the recruits are women, as are 11 percent of the trainers, according to General Edward Rice, who heads the command.

The wingman policy, requiring trainees to be accompanied whenever they are outside their dormitories,“dramatically decreases the potential for sexual assault or misconduct since these types of activities almost always occur in a one-on-one setting,” according to the the command’s report.

‘Never Be Alone’

The policy previously was in place only at night as well as around the clock during the first two weeks of training.

Using such a “buddy system” as a solution puts the burden on victims, Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for sexual- assault victims in the military, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Can you imagine if leaders in our civilian society suggested that in order to prevent rape or assault we must never be alone?” said Nancy Parrish, president of the Burlingame, California-based group.

An independent investigation by Major General Margaret Woodward, the Air Force chief of safety, found some instructors “were too immature and inexperienced to effectively exercise the authority and power they were given over trainees” Her report, dated Aug. 22, also was released today.

‘Culture of Fear’

In some cases, military instructors “relied too heavily on a culture of fear” to motivate trainees, Woodward’s report found. Poor leadership also created “a culture where misconduct appeared to be tolerated” and where trainees were fearful of reporting sexual abuse.

The Air Education and Training Command said it will increase and strengthen leadership positions at Lackland and that an expanded leadership orientation course “will place additional emphasis on the potential for abuse of power, sexual assault, unprofessional relationships, and maltreatment or maltraining.”

Sexual abuse has plagued the military for decades even after multiple attempts to reduce attacks.

While the Pentagon said 3,192 sexual assaults were reported in the military last year -- from unwanted sexual touching to rape -- many victims fail to report abuse.

The Defense Department has estimated the actual number of assaults is about 19,000 a year, based on anonymous surveys of the active-duty force in 2010, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.

Anonymous Survey

An anonymous survey of Air Force personnel in 2010 found 19 percent of all female airmen and 2 percent of male airmen reported being victims of sexual assault at some time in their military careers.

Women made up about 13.6 percent of the active-duty military force last year, according to the Defense Department.

The Air Force removed the top commander of basic training at Lackland, Colonel Glenn Palmer, in August in the wake of the scandal.

One military instructor, Staff Sergeant Luis Walker, was sentenced in July to 20 years in prison for crimes including rape, adultery, obstruction of justice and aggravated sexual assault involving 10 trainees.

In conducting the investigation, the Air Force studied the option of adopting segregated training, with female recruits trained only by female instructors.

That approach is used by the Marine Corps, which says it offers female recruits strong female mentors. All other military services use integrated training.

Woodward recommended against separate training, though she said the number of female instructors should be increased to 25 percent of the force.

Rice also said in his report that integrated training should be preserved.

“I support this finding, which is consistent with the principle of training the way we fight together as Airmen,” he said.


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