Air Force Scandal Blamed On Thin Ranks By Sig Christenson

Houston Chronicle
June 22, 2013
Pg. B4

Military sex assaults

SAN ANTONIO — The worst sex scandal in Air Force history is partly the result of personnel cuts that were ordered in a bid to save money and reduced supervision of recruits, the service’s top commander told the San Antonio Express-News.

Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh III said the thinned ranks of training instructors and officers at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland were one of five factors in the scandal.

“Looking backward now, shame on us because we helped create an environment where we didn’t have the supervision necessary to prevent something like this from happening,” Welsh said. “Now nobody expects people to perform badly or to behave badly when they’re in a position like (a military training instructor) at Lackland, and so we were surprised but were naïve as well, and we’ve got to make sure we are not that in the future.”

Welsh addressed an array of concerns over a sex scandal that first came to light 19 months ago when a basic training instructor was accused of raping one woman and assaulting nine other recruits.

Since then, 33 trainers have been investigated for misconduct with 66 victims.

Other cases have surfaced since the instructor, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, was sentenced to 20 years in prison last summer.

One involved a Houston-area recruiter sentenced to 27 years in prison last week. Before that, the branch chief of the Air Force’s sexual-assault program, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was jailed after a woman was groped in a Crystal City, Va., parking lot.

“The crime is horrible every time it occurs, wherever it occurs, and we certainly haven’t stopped the problem, which is our fault, and we have to fix this,” said Welsh, who cited the accusations against Krusinski as “stunning, quite frankly, to me and to everybody else.”

“We’re doing everything we can (to stop the problem) but it’s not for lack of effort, and it’s not because every commander is trying to somehow sweep the problem under the rug, which is one of the ways this has been characterized,” he added. “That’s ridiculous.”

Welsh, a San Antonio native who calls Austin his home, pointed to an investigation last year headed by Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward that found problems in five areas at Lackland — leadership, selection and manning of the military training instructor workforce, instructor training and development, reporting and detection, and policy and guidance.

As the Air Force pared its troops by tens of thousands, younger replacements were brought in.

He said one impact on Lackland was the selection of military training instructors “who probably didn’t have the right maturity level and experience because the Air Force actually got more junior in rank over time as we cut manpower.”

The investigation by Woodward led to sweeping changes at Lackland and throughout technical training. She recently was named the head of the Air Force sexual-assault response office.

The recommendations being put in place include assigning two instructors to every basic-training flight, bringing in more women trainers and adding more officers to oversee Lackland’s force.

Prior to the scandal, Welsh said, the Air Force didn’t stress core leadership responsibilities or how the younger NCOs would manage their newfound authority over recruits. He said institutional barriers hampered the reporting of misconduct.

“And all these things just came together to create an environment that allowed this to happen,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you can look back on it and say, ‘My gosh, how did this happen?’ But we think that’s how it happened, no excuses. Clearly it should not have happened.”

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