On Thursday, September 20 and Friday, September 21 members of the United States Air Force updated Congresswoman Niki Tsongas and other members of Congress on the progress of their investigations into sexual misconduct by military training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base.
In July, Tsongas and Congressman Mike Turner, co-chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus and members of the House Armed Service Committee (HASC), sent a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley requesting that the Air Force brief the members of the Caucus on their response to the multiple accounts of sexual assault at Lackland.
On Thursday, USAF General Edward A. Rice, Jr. and USAF Major General Margaret H. Woodward provided a briefing to the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. Major General Woodward recently conducted an independent review of the events that occurred at Lackland and presented an overview of the results and recommendations.
After the briefing, Tsongas met personally with General Rice to discuss in further detail what went awry at Lackland.
On Friday morning, seven generals, including General Rice, General Woodward and the generals in charge of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation, the Air Force Judge Advocate General, and the general in charge of victim support services met with the Military Sexual Assault Caucus to discuss the Lackland cases. The head of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention Office, Major General Gary Patton also attended the briefing.
Tsongas issued the following statement regarding the series of meetings:
"As the daughter of an Air Force Colonel who grew up on Air Force bases across the country and around the world, I have a deep appreciation for the Air Force and the men and women serving in this branch. That's one of the reasons why I volunteered to serve as a member of the Board of Visitors for the Air Force Academy soon after being elected.
"I am deeply dismayed by the recurring nature of these horrific scandals. After many years of incident after incident, those of us tasked with overseeing the military and ensuring its strength are alarmed by the lip service that too often substitutesfor genuine reform. We have heard pledges of "zero tolerance' and a needed "culture change' from militaryleaders, but this appalling scandal demonstrations once again that the military has not made acceptable progress and serious and immediate action must be taken.
"With its response to Lackland, the Air Force has an opportunity now to prove with actions rather than words that they are serious about addressing sexual assault prevention and response. As the Air Force completes its examination of the events at Lackland, we will be pushing them to address the larger problems that allow these types of crimes to occur."
Congresswoman Tsongas and Congressman Mike Turner established the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus earlier this year so that Congress has a dedicated and bipartisan group of members committed to overseeing the military's efforts to deal with the unacceptable number of military sexual assaults. Recent studies have revealed that as many as 1 in 3 women leaving military service report that they have experienced some form of Military Sexual Trauma. By the Pentagon's own estimate, as few as 13.5% of sexual assaults are reported.
Congresswoman Tsongas is the author of the Defense STRONG ACT, which was signed into law last year and grants victims the right to a base transfer, the right to legal counsel, and the right to confidentially when seeking assistance from an advocate. The Defense Department is in the process of implementing its provisions.
Since the summer of 2011, the Air Force has been investigating multiple Military Training Instructors for allegations of sexual misconduct ranging from unprofessional relationships to rape. All of the cases occurred in training units at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, where all new airmen attend basic training and where many continue on to their technical skill training.
As of September 21, 2012 there are 18 instructors under investigation, and 42 victims. Four of those instructors have been court martialed and convicted, two more are scheduled for court martial in the coming weeks, and one received non-judicial punishment. The remaining 11 cases are still under investigation. In addition to investigations of criminal conduct and policy violations, the Air Force is also investigating the environment at Lackland that allowed this misconduct to occur.