U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, released a hearing schedule Tuesday for the committee’s investigation into the Lackland Air Force Base scandal, which will be taking place next week.
The committee was waiting for the results of internal investigations to take place before a public hearing could address the issue, said Alissa McCurley, spokeswoman for McKeon’s office.
“We’ve said all along is that the reason we couldn’t hold those hearing at the time is because there was internal investigations going on at the time,” McCurley said.
“It is absolutely unconscionable that someone who joins the service, to sign up to give their life for service of their country, be subject to any sort of treatment that runs afoul of that honor and promise,” McCurley said.
The hearings are the most recent development in the scandal that surfaced in 2011.
The most serious accusations surround an Air Force staff sergeant scheduled to face a court-martial in July on charges that include rape and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. The other three defendants were charged with lesser crimes ranging from sexual misconduct to adultery. All of the defendants were assigned to turn raw recruits into airmen in eight weeks of basic training.
The headquarters facility is where Lackland trains the people who train recruits.
The first sexual misconduct allegations at Lackland surfaced a year ago against Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, who is charged with 28 counts.
Walker, the only instructor who has been accused of sexually assaulting another airman, faces life in prison if convicted. His civilian attorney, Joseph Esparza, has declined to speak with reporters and did not return multiple calls for comment.
A two-star general is now investigating alongside a separate criminal probe, which military prosecutors say could sweep up more airmen. Advocates for female service members and members of Congress have started taking notice.
Lackland has about 475 instructors for the nearly 36,000 airmen who graduated last year.
That’s about 85 percent of what Lackland would consider a full roster of instructors, a demanding job that requires airmen to work longer hours than most for four years, at the expense of family and personal time.
The Air Force recently launched a smartphone app to help recruit instructors.
Nearly three dozen instructors at Lackland have also been removed in the 18 months, but the Air Force will not say how many lost their jobs as a result of an internal investigation that began in fall 2011, only that the majority of dismissals were unrelated.
Sexual assault victims are reassigned and can apply for a “humanitarian discharge” from the military, but Lackland civilian spokeswoman Collen McGhee said she did not know whether those affected by this case had done so.
Lackland has about 475 instructors for the nearly 36,000 airmen who will graduate this year. That’s about 85 percent of what Lackland would consider a full roster of instructors, a demanding job that requires airmen to work longer hours than most for four years, at the expense of family and personal time. The Air Force recently launched a smartphone app to help recruit instructors. Topping a page of frequently asked questions is whether the divorce rate for instructors really is higher. (The Air Force says no.)
Palmer said that a slight shortage in instructors has not lowered the standards for applicants. In response to the allegations, he said instructor training is being revamped and that he was accountable for problems within the training wing.
Leaders of the instructor program, however, said the responsibility falls on the accused.
“A person sitting in that seat, they’re going to do what they’re going to do when no one is watching,” said Master Sgt. Greg Pendleton, who oversees the training. “That’s across the board. That’s just them. When we’re outside this door or outside these walls, there are individuals that have their own personal values.”
So widespread is the fallout that Lackland halted operations for an entire day in March to survey about 5,900 trainees about whether they had seen or been a victim of sexual misconduct.
Here’s the schedule released by McKeon’s office:
A Review of sexual misconduct by basic training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base
10:00 am – 2118 Rayburn – Open
(Room opens at 8 a.m. for credentialed press)
General Mark A. Welsh III, USAF
Chief of Staff
U.S. Air Force
General Edward A. Rice, Jr., USAF
Commander, Air Education and Training Command
U.S. Air Force
David Lisak, Ph.D.
Chief Master Sergeant Cindy McNally, USAF (ret)
Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN)
Ms. Jennifer Norris
Protect Our Defenders
MSNBC contributed to this story.