Pentagon releases findings of sex abuse investigation at training facilities

The Air Force and Pentagon already have all the authority they need to address rampant sexual abuse at the service’s training facilities, military officials said Wednesday.

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Wrapping up a service-wide investigation into abuse cases, Air Force Gen. Edward Rice, the head of all training operations, told reporters the Pentagon could resolve the problem without any action from Congress.

“I do not need additional authorities or changed authorities,” Rice said. 

Rice’s command on Wednesday released the results of a probe into sexual abuse of female recruits at the Air Force’s main basic training facility at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. 

The investigation, which included interviews with more than 200 service members at several major Army and Air Force training bases, found the problem was the result of “a few but not insignificant number of trainers” at Lackland. 

So far, 17 trainers have been investigated for sexual assault or inappropriate relationships with as many as 42 female trainees. One instructor was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and the commander of basic training at the base was dismissed.

Two additional senior Air Force commanders have also been disciplined as a result of the investigation, while another six top commanders are still under investigation for their lack of oversight at the base, Rice said. 

The scandal at the base drew severe criticism from leading lawmakers, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), and shed a light on the growing problem of sexual assault within the military’s ranks. 

In July, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) blocked the nomination of current Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh over his concerns about the service’s response to the situation at Lackland. 

After visiting the base earlier this year, Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) are looking to propose legislation to increase oversight within the Pentagon to prevent instances like those at Lackland from happening again. 

But on Wednesday, Rice said the recommendations that came from the investigation of Lackland would be enough to address the problem. 

Rice plans to introduce nearly 50 initiatives into the Air Force’s training regime, from increasing the number of female drill instructors to creating a new service oversight council under the command of a three-star general, based on the investigation’s findings. 

The recommendations mimic those instituted by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta via new department-wide guidelines back in April. 

The guidelines include a department-wide review of basic training procedures and policies, including the selection, training and oversight of instructors.

While the problem at Lackland was limited to a handful of bad actors among the Air Force’s cadre of trainers, these new recommendations will drill down to the root problems in leadership and lack of oversight in the Air Force and across the services that allowed the problem to fester, according to Rice. 

The recommendations issued Wednesday were just the beginning as military leaders look to ensure cases like Lackland do not happen again, Rice added. 

“This isn’t the end,” the four-star general said. “This is an ongoing process.”