After sex scandal, Air Force mulls using only women to train female recruits

Dozens of young female cadets were the victims of sexual misconduct by their basic training instructors. In response, the Air Force is considering using more, or only, women to train women.

John L. Mone/AP
In this image made from video shot last week, female airmen march during graduation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. A widening sex scandal has rocked Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, one of the nation's busiest military training centers, where four male instructors are charged with having sex with, and in one case raping, female trainees.

In the wake of a wide-ranging sex scandal in which dozens of young female Air Force cadets were victims of sexual misconduct on the part of their basic training instructors, senior US military officials are considering putting new female recruits under the sole supervision of female basic training instructors.

It would be an unprecedented step for the Air Force, which trains 35,000 new recruits a year, 22 percent of whom are women.

“Benefits?” asked Gen. Edward Rice, head of the service’s Air Education and Training Command of the possibility of female cadets in basic training having only other women as instructors. “I”m not sure there is one.” He said, however, that this step is currently under serious consideration.

Short of new female recruits only having female instructors, the Air Force is also weighing the possibility of simply hiring more female trainers, he added in a Pentagon briefing Wednesday.

Currently, about one in ten Air Force basic training instructors are women.

These possible measures are the result of soul-searching among Air Force officials, who are currently investigating a dozen US military trainers at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for sexual misconduct involving dozens of young recruits, all of whom were female.

It was in June, 2011 that the first female cadet came forward to report sexual assault by a trainer. 

The following November, three military training instructors – or MTI’s as they are known in Air Force parlance – came forward to report possible misconduct after overhearing fellow MTIs “talking about something that was completely unacceptable,” General Rice said. At least one of those MTIs was a woman, Rice said.

The Air Force also tried something it had never before done: It halted basic training for a day to discuss sexual assault with both new recruits and instructors. It also gave all trainees surveys asking them, among other things, if they had been assaulted.

A separate Air Force-wide survey released in March 2011 – one of the most comprehensive ever undertaken by the US military – found that one in five Air Force women had been sexually assaulted. Less than one in five of those women said they had reported the crime.

At Lackland, investigators discovered that nine of the 12 instructors alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct were from one unit, the 331st Training Squadron. The commander of the 331st has since been relieved of duty, Rice said, adding that he did not know the name of the commander who was relieved over “an unacceptable level of misconduct in his unit.”

Trials for those accused of the sexual misconduct are ongoing, but have had some notable setbacks. Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado struck a plea deal earlier this month after he admitted to having sex with a female trainee. He received 90 days confinement after agreeing to testify against his fellow MTI’s, for which he received immunity.

It was only then that he admitted to having sex with a total of 10 trainees, a source of grave embarrassment for Air Force officials. Rice said that Staff Sgt. Vega will be discharged from the Air Force after he is released from jail. 

Vega will not be charged in any of the other cases, Rice said.

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