USA First Look

In rare move, Air Force demotes four-star general for sexual misconduct

The Air Force dropped retired Gen. Arthur Lichte two ranks and cut about $60,000 from his annual retirement payments after investigating complaints from a former subordinate officer.

Retired Gen. Arthur Lichte was reduced to major general due to sexual assault allegations. Lawyers for Lichte say the relationship was consensual and that Lichte will appeal.
Air Force | Caption

The US Air Force has stripped retired Gen. Arthur Lichte of two ranks and docked a portion of his retirement pay, after determining that he engaged in inappropriate sexual acts with a former subordinate officer. The penalty is a rare case of a high-ranking US military official having his rank reduced for sexual misconduct. 

The formerly four-star general, who retired in 2010 after 38 years of service, was demoted to the rank of major general based on the results of an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. A decrease of about $60,000 in annual pension pay accompanies the demotion, according to USA Today, leaving the general with earnings of $156,000 per year.

The subordinate officer had alleged that Lichte assaulted her three times between 2007 and 2009, telling her that "he would deny it until the day he died," according to a report from the investigation. The probe did not substantiate those allegations, but did determine that the conduct was inappropriate, according to The Washington Post.

Lichte maintains that the relationship was consensual, but expressed regret, asserting "that he is deeply sorry for the pain he has caused his family, especially his strong and loving wife," his attorney said in a statement, according to Military.com. Lichte's lawyer, Larry Youngner, said that his client "vehemently denies the unsworn allegations" and will appeal the case.

"You are hereby reprimanded!" then-Air Force secretary Deborah James wrote in a December letter to Lichte, according to USA Today. "Your conduct is disgraceful and, but for the statute of limitations bar to prosecution, would be more appropriately addressed through the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

The statute of limitations of five years had lapsed, so a court martial was never a possibility. The subordinate's complaint triggered an investigation in 2016.

As a result of the investigation, the Air Force dropped Lichte to the last rank at which he had served satisfactorily.

Lichte is the latest in a number of high-ranking US military officials reprimanded this year. Others include Army Maj. Gen. David Haight, National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael Bobeck, and Army Lt. Gen. Ron Lewis.

Sexual misconduct and sexual assault in the military is a widely acknowledged problem with few clear solutions. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York has introduced legislation to transfer sexual-assault prosecutions to military lawyers, rather than senior officers, although it still hasn’t been put to a vote. The Pentagon argued against the law, but an advocacy group called Protect our Defenders found their data to be misleading.

Others argue that the very culture of the military needs to be changed by the presence of more women.

Some would like to see stronger punitive measures for officers in general in the future, but say that would require systemic changes.

“The only question is, ‘How much rank do you take?’ ” retired US Air Force Col. Don Christensen, who is president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, told USA Today. “Under these circumstances, this is probably the appropriate response. They have a problem when it comes to holding general officers accountable. They’ve never court-martialed a general officer.”

This report contains material from the Associated Press.