Sex scandal widens at Lackland air base in Texas
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SAN ANTONIO -- From a chapel pulpit on Lackland Air Force Base, where every American airman reports for basic training, Col. Glenn Palmer delivered his first order to nearly 600 recruits: If you're sexually harassed or assaulted, tell someone.
What the colonel did not mention directly in his recent address was a widening sex scandal that has rocked the base, one of the nation's busiest military training centers. Allegations that male instructors had sex with, and in one case raped, female trainees have led to criminal charges against four men. Charges against others are possible.
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.
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.
Yet there are signs the Air Force still doesn't have a handle on the full problem. Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado pleaded guilty earlier this month to having sex with a female trainee and struck a plea deal for 90 days' confinement. Then he acknowledged involvement with a total of 10 trainees, a number previously unknown to investigators.
On Friday, after months of embarrassing disclosures, the head of the Air Force's training command ordered Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward to lead an independent investigation.
First Published June 26, 2012 12:00 am