The Lackland trainee reported in April 2009 her trainer kept entering into her dorm after midnight, where he "harassed and flirted" with her. "While he was there, he and the victim went into his office where he kissed and hugged her so tightly to himself that she could feel his erection," according to a report. The trainer's only punishment months later was a letter of reprimand and his promotion to master sergeant delayed for 60 days.
The Air Force cites the instance in an investigation officials released last week outlining how "a culture too accepting of misconduct," lax oversight by command, and inconsistent and weak punishment of offenders bred the sexual abuse and harassment scandal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. As of last week, 25 basic training instructors have been identified in the ongoing investigation, along with 49 trainee victims, all women.
"The misconduct discovered at (basic training) tears at the foundational trust and core values that hold the Air Force together," said Gen. Edward Rice Jr., who heads the Air Force's training command, at a Pentagon press conference announcing the results of the investigation. The Air Force in June tapped Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward to investigate possible causes of the Lackland scandal.
The investigation found "instances where supervisors and commanders were insulated from, rather than engaged with, their squadrons," fueling a culture tolerant of misconduct. Mid-level supervisors were either too lenient in dealing with problem trainers or, in at least one case, were directly involved in the misconduct, according to the report.
Trainers at Lackland, the report found, too often relied on "a culture of fear" to keep trainees in line, creating an environment where trainees were too afraid to report abuse. According to the report, investigators found trainees often feared reprisal "and in some cases did not believe action would be taken against the perpetrator."
The report also illustrates how commanders were sometimes reluctant to pursue charges. In one instance the Air Force Office of Special Investigations refused to fully investigate claims that three Lackland trainers sexually assaulted their female trainees in a supply closet, saying the acts were consensual. Only after a military judge advocate intervened and got another investigative body to look into the abuse were the claims fully vetted and charges filed.
Among other problems, the report says inconsistent or weak punishment for infractions made instructors think "unprofessional behavior would be tolerated by at least some in authority." "(Trainers) have so much authority over trainees that it can severely inhibit the trainee's ability to seek help," the report says. "In one example, a trainee having suicidal thoughts asked an MTI for an appointment to see a chaplain. The MTI handed the trainee a pair of scissors, instead, and encouraged the trainee to kill himself."