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Iowa senator urges buddy system at Air Force base to combat sexual assault

Iowa senator urges buddy system at Air Force base to combat sexual assault
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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), the Senate's first female combat veteran, is urging an Air Force base commander in Texas to implement a buddy system for trainees on base that would require them to travel in pairs to reduce the risk of sexual assault.

In a letter first obtained by The Hill, Ernst wrote to Air Force Brig. Gen. Heather L. Pringle, commander of the U.S. Air Force 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio.

"I was surprised to hear that the Air Force was the only service that did not require such a system for all of its students in training status," the senator wrote. 

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"This is disappointing, as the buddy pair system not only can reduce vulnerabilities for sexual assault, but also helps young service members make better decisions. When I deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a captain, all service members on our base were required to travel in pairs, including myself," she wrote. 

The request follows Ernst's visit to Joint Base San Antonio in November, where she spoke with service members on how to address military sexual assault.  

Since 2011, 35 basic training instructors have been investigated for misconduct with 69 recruits and technical training students, according to the San Antonio Express-News.  

Ernst, a freshman senator and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has taken up the issue of military sexual assault along with her Democratic colleagues on the committee, Sens. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMcCaskill welcomes ninth grandson in a row Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate Dems block crackdown on sanctuary cities MORE (Mo.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Calls mount from Dems to give platform to Trump accusers  MORE (N.Y.). 

Ernst worked with McCaskill on the Military Retaliation Prevention Act, which was signed into law as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The act makes retaliation against sexual assault survivors a military crime. 

"As we continue to see sexual assault plague institutions around the country, it is my hope that the military will continue to take concrete steps to improve and become a leading example for how to effectively curb this problem," she said.  

"I appreciate your consideration of this request and look forward to hearing your thoughts on your decision."