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Commander calls for command-wide investigation of inappropriate relationships

by Staff. Sgt. Clinton Atkins
Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs

6/23/2012 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) -- Concerned by allegations of misconduct by Air Force Basic Military Training instructors, the commander of Air Education and Training Command has directed an investigation, led by a general officer from outside the command, that goes beyond BMT and includes all AETC initial and technical training units.

Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., the AETC commander, appointed Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward to lead the command directed investigation. Woodward is currently assigned as acting director of Operational Planning, Policy and Strategy for the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Plans and Requirements at Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington D.C.

"The vast majority of our military training team abides by the standards of conduct set forth for the men and women charged with the responsibility of training our force," Rice said. "There is an ongoing comprehensive criminal investigation, and we have taken a series of steps to ensure our trainees at basic military training have a safe and professional training environment. It's important to look even deeper and wider to identify any systemic issues that may place our youngest Airmen at risk in any basic or technical training environment. If there are, we need to address them."

The issue of instructor sexual misconduct came to light when Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, a BMT instructor at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, was accused of sexually assaulting a trainee in June 2011. Walker was immediately relieved of duty and his leaders began an investigation into the allegations. Walker now faces a general court-martial on 28 charges, including rape, adultery, obstruction of justice, attempted aggravated sexual contact, multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault, violating a training group instruction, and violating a lawful order regarding unprofessional relationships with trainees. Walker is set to appear in court July 16.

Since then, several members of the military training instructor corps have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior by other instructors. As soon as leaders became aware of additional possible misconduct, they launched a comprehensive investigation. That investigation has so far led commanders to initiate proceedings against three other instructors, and there are ongoing investigations into potential misconduct by several other instructors. Commanders consider the full range of appropriate disciplinary and administrative measures to include courts-martial while protecting the Constitutional rights of the accused.

"The fact that MTIs stepped forward to identify those suspected of misconduct cannot be overlooked," said Col. Polly Kenny, the 2nd Air Force Staff Judge Advocate. "It demonstrates that these NCOs care about the integrity of the BMT Corps and are not willing to tolerate behavior that will tarnish a hallowed Air Force institution."

One of the accused MTIs, Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado, pleaded guilty to one charge of having an improper relationship with a trainee and violation of a no-contact order. He was sentenced to 90 days confinement, forfeiture of $500 pay per month for four months, 30 days hard labor and reduction in rank to airman. Since then, he was granted testimonial immunity in exchange for aiding prosecutors in other cases.

Vega-Maldonado testified for the government during a June 1 Article 32 hearing regarding Staff Sgts. Craig LeBlanc and Kwinton Estacio. Estacio is charged with sexual misconduct with a trainee, violating a no-contact order and obstruction of justice. LeBlanc is charged with sexual misconduct with two trainees, violating a no-contact order, adultery and obstruction of justice.

During his immunized testimony, Vega-Maldonado admitted he had engaged in improper sexual conduct with several other women in addition to the woman identified in his previous guilty plea.

Once the training unit's leaders learned there were further incidents of sexual misconduct, they took immediate action to investigate and offer services to affected Airmen.

The 37th Training Wing surveyed all of the 5,900 trainees in BMT March 17 to identify sexual misconduct. Trainees were briefed by chapel, legal, sexual assault response coordinator and office of special investigations staff members. They also heard from the 737th Training Group commander. Discussions covered everything from reporting procedures to services available for anyone affected by sexual misconduct.

"I tell (the trainees), 'You are my neighborhood watch -- each and every one of you,'" said Col. Glenn Palmer, the 737th Training Group commander. "If there is any MTI misconduct going on, report it. If it's happening to you, report it. If you observe it happening, be a good wingman and report it."

Additionally, training leaders met with instructors to discuss the severity of the incidents being investigated. Commanders and first sergeants stressed the importance of proper conduct. Each instructor was ordered to re-read Air Force Instruction 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationships, along with the AETC-specific version of the same instruction, and to sign an agreement of understanding.

Rice said Woodward's investigation is not designed to halt any ongoing or planned training unit reviews, corrective actions or criminal investigations being conducted by subordinate AETC units. Woodward's investigation will evaluate all aspects of sexual and other abuse-of-power misconduct between faculty or staff and trainees or students in BMT and technical training throughout the command.

The AETC commander said correcting this misconduct is a top priority.

"Misconduct, particularly when committed by faculty or staff with trainees or students, undermines an entire team, damages good order and discipline and threatens the trust the American people have in us as professionals and as an institution," Rice said. "It will not be tolerated. Our mission requires an educational environment where students and trainees are prepared for duty with dignity and respect."

A report from Woodward is due to Rice within 60 calendar days of her appointment unless granted an extension.

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