By Jeremy Herb - 09/09/12 09:30 PM EDT
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) visited Lackland Air Force Base Sunday to meet with the chief of Air Education and Training Command Gen. Edward Rice and other top officials about the sex scandal that has rocked the base.
McKeon also sat down with 30 trainees one week away from graduation to find out how the sex scandal involving basic training instructors has affected them and their feelings about the Air Force.
McKeon said in a telephone interview with The Hill that he felt confident after his meetings that the Air Force was going to clean up the problem.
“These people that I met with are taking this very seriously. It has painted them and they don’t like that,” McKeon said.
The scandal at Lackland in San Antonio, Texas, has widened several times in recent months and now includes 17 training instructors under investigation and 42 victims who were female trainees. One instructor was sentenced to 20 years in prison for rape and sexual assault, and the commander of basic training at the base was ousted.
Activists have criticized McKeon for not doing enough to address the Lackland scandal as chairman of the Armed Services Committee. The group Protect Our Defenders started a Twitter campaign and petition to try and prod him to launch a committee investigation and public hearings on Lackland.
"It is time for our elected officials to do their job and protect our sisters, neighbors, daughters and friends and hold an open hearing and investigation about Lackland," Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, said in a statement last month when the investigation expanded to 17 instructors.
McKeon defended the committee’s work on the scandal, which included a closed-door briefing with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley before the recess.
“I understand people are concerned and think we’re not doing our job,” McKeon told The Hill. “I think we are doing our job and think we’re doing it correctly. It’s very important we make sure that we don’t mess up any investigation and let somebody walk after doing the serious things they’ve been accused of.
“They are tracking every single lead and will go until they’ve exhausted every single lead,” he said of the Air Force investigators.
McKeon added that he did not want a separate committee investigation to “get in their way” that could lead to somebody getting off the hook.
In his meeting with the Air Force recruits, McKeon said the soon-to-be graduates had a positive outlook about the Air Force. They discussed issues like the future of drone pilots and the situation in Iran as well as the sex scandal.
“They’re excited about the Air Force. They feel good,” McKeon said. “They understand there’s some potential in any endeavor of a few people casting a bad light on their collective and that’s what happened here. The investigations are going to find every one of those people and bring them to justice.”