By Mike Mount
An investigation into sexual assaults and harassment at the basic-training facility for the U.S. Air Force has led to sweeping changes of how instructors are chosen, as well as to an increase in the number of female instructors for new recruits.
The announcement came on Wednesday as the Air Force briefed reporters at the Pentagon on the findings of an investigation into claims earlier this year that dozens of female recruits had been sexually assaulted.
The Air Force's final report into the Air Education and Training Command at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas said some of the instructors, "lacked the experience necessary to effectively serve as mentors and leaders and had little to no supervisory experience...this lack of experience is considered particularly relevant when a single (instructor) is generally responsible for a flight of 50 or more trainees."
Some 23 instructors have been identified as having been allegedly involved in the misconduct against 48 recruits at the school. The report says five people have been convicted in military courts on rape and adultery charges, with punishments ranging from 30 days in prison to 20 years behind bars.
The report comes as the Pentagon and CIA find themselves embroiled in a sex scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus - a retired Army general - and an investigation into possible improper conduct by the NATO top commander, Gen. John Allen.
Among the 46 recommendations in the report, the Air Force will require that a fourth of the instructors be female - there was no standard on a male-female ratio before - and that four instructors will now oversee two units - with at least one instructor being a woman. Prior to the report, the training command had only one instructor overseeing a 22-person unit of men and women.
Lackland Air Force base, near San Antonio, is where all U.S. Air Force recruits report for basic training. Air Force statistics show that there are about 500 instructors at the base that trains about 35,000 airmen each year. Only 20% of the recruits are female, and the vast majority of the instructors at the school are men, according to the fact sheet.
The lead investigator into the training command improprieties, Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, said the biggest problem was instructors who took advantage an oversight system where instructors and officers did not monitor one another to spot trouble signs that could catch the abuse.
"Basic military training is an environment that is highly vulnerable to the abuse of power because of the significant power imbalance that exists between instructors and trainees," the report said. "The conditions that led to the abuse of power in ... are ever-present; thus, our vigilance and engagement must be persistent as well," according to the report.
The commander in charge of Air Force training wrote a response to the investigation.
Gen. Edward Rice Jr., said the service will put additional and better prepared officers in charge of training units and will require enlisted instructors to have more seniority before taking a position. Instructors will now monitor each other to look for signs that abuse is taking place.
"The susceptibility to the abuse of power is well-documented, not just here but in any situation of its type," Rice said at the Pentagon news briefing.
"And we believe we can do more to both equip each individual with the sort of warning signals they should be looking out for among their fellow airmen and taking ownership of the responsibility to monitor not just their own behavior, but also those around them in a way that when someone doesn't meet our standards, they intervene early," the commander in charge of training, Gen. Rice said at the Pentagon news briefing.