Lackland's instructor-on-rainbow sex crimes, told by one who lived the nightmare
Published: July 11, 2012
Air Force veteran Colleen Bushnell says she barely survived Lackland Air Force Base.
Soon after transferring from Nebraska to San Antonio in 2003, a male commanding officer raped Bushnell and intimidated her into silence. The next year, she was again sexually assaulted by a female Lackland officer.
"I lived in a nightmare," Bushnell says.
The day after Bushnell reported the assaults to military police, the female officer put a gun to her head and took her own life — she too had been raped by the male officer, Bushnell later learned.
The male officer that assaulted both women never faced charges, Bushnell says. "He's still at large and works as a public affairs officer for the military in San Antonio," she says wryly.
By 2005, Bushnell's life had spiraled out of control. She was transferred twice, and both times faced retaliation within the ranks for having reported sexual assault. "There was a stigma attached to me, I felt it the minute I reported," she says.
Traumatized, she left the Air Force in 2006 as a staff sergeant and walked away from a decorated nine-year career. Her life began to crumble. She contemplated suicide. She intentionally overdosed on various medications — the worst incident landed her in a two-day coma. She lost a bitter custody fight for her two kids. She wound up homeless.
A scandal that has snowballed over the past year has worked to expose an "underworld" at Lackland Bushnell learned of years ago. Last summer a single trainee reported suspicions of sexual misconduct roiling the ranks at Lackland just before her transfer, and since then investigations have unearthed 31 victims accusing a dozen San Antonio-based Air Force military training instructors, or MTIs, of misconduct ranging from unprofessional sexual relationships between instructors and trainees, a violation of military no-contact orders, to sexual assault and rape.
One of the scandal's most alarming cases heads to a court-martial next week. Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, charged with sexual contact with 10 women, including one rape, was removed from his training post last year, military authorities say. If convicted, he could face a life sentence. Evidentiary hearings into two other cases last month have cast an even wider pall over the entire system of training military recruits, dragging to the surface uneasy questions over the power instructors wield over their trainees, how easy it may be for them to abuse it, and whether sexual misconduct between MTIs and trainees should ever be considered consensual.
The Lackland scandal has now led to calls for a congressional inquiry and has sparked three separate probes: one by the Air Education and Training Command, led by a two-star general, to review all the Air Force's training units; a military police investigation into instructor misconduct at Lackland; and a special inquiry team investigating the 331st Training Squadron, where nine of the 12 instructors under investigation at the base served.
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