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Air Force officials aim to eliminate sexual assault

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Following a nine-month investigation into sexual misconduct at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in San Antonio, the Air Force has implemented a comprehensive program aimed at eliminating sexual assault, senior Air Force leaders told Congress today.

Air Force Chief Of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Air Force Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., the commander of the service's Air Education and Training Command, spoke before the House Armed Services Committee about the Air Force's recently completed internal investigation.

Describing the crimes as "stunning," Welsh said there could be no excuses. "There's no justifiable explanation, and there is no way we can allow this to happen again," he said.

"The Air Force goal for sexual assault is not simply to lower the number. The goal is zero," Welsh added. "It's the only acceptable objective. The impact on every victim, their family, their friends [and] the other people in their unit is heart-wrenching, and attacking this cancer is a full-time job, and we are giving it our full attention."

The effort includes an Air Force-wide health and welfare inspection, held in December, the results of which are publicly available, Welsh said. Also last month, Welsh used his monthly "Letter to Airmen" to reinforce "that obscene, vulgar or disrespectful images, songs or so-called 'traditions' are not part of our heritage and will not be accepted as part of our culture."

In addition, a Recruiting Education and Training Oversight Council will be established, Rice said, to review and advise any current or future actions undertaken to eliminate sexual assault. The council also will provide advice on strategic issues affecting airman safety and the maintenance of good order and discipline in basic military training, he added.

More than 7,700 interviews were conducted as part of the investigation, Rice said. When contact information was available, anyone who graduated from basic military training within the past 10 years was interviewed, he added.
"Although we have conducted a 10-year look back, the vast majority of the allegations are of alleged misconduct that occurred over the past three years," Rice said.

Allegations ranged from sexual assault to inappropriate contact with former students, Rice said. Each victim or alleged victim was offered "the full range of available victim support services," he added.

Of the 855 personnel assigned as military training instructors during this three-year period, 32 -- less than 4 percent -- have been disciplined or are now under investigation, Rice said.

"I believe it is important to underscore that the vast majority of our instructors served with distinction in a very demanding duty assignment," Rice said. "That said, it is completely unacceptable to us that so many of our instructors have committed crimes or violated our policies, and we clearly failed in our responsibility to maintain good order and discipline among too many of our instructors in basic military training."

Maintaining good order and discipline is one of the most important and fundamental responsibilities of command, Rice said, one that "cannot be delegated."

With that in mind, Air Force officials are focusing their efforts on helping commanders meet this "fundamental responsibility," he said.

"The Air Force has recommitted itself to ensuring that every airman is treated with respect," Welsh said. "It's not a one-time fix. It has to be a way of life."

With "no room for misunderstanding," Welsh said, every Air Force supervisor and commander must be actively engaged in this effort. "If they don't get actively engaged, I consider them part of the problem," he added.

While it is still early, Rice said, it appears that the Air Force's efforts are making an impact. There have been no reports of sexual misconduct in basic military training in the past seven months, he noted. "We know this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning of a journey that can never end," he said.

"The American people trust us with their greatest treasure: their sons and daughters," Welsh said. "They expect us to lead them with honor, to value each of them, and to treat them as if they were our own. We do not have a greater responsibility than that.

"I will never stop attacking this problem. ... The United States Air Force leadership team will never quit working to eliminate this horrible crime from the ranks of our Air Force," he said.
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