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Senior leaders welcome independent academy review

WASHINGTON -- Even as the Air Force takes its first steps toward correcting problems that led to allegations of sexual assault at its academy, the service's leaders told lawmakers they would welcome a third-party investigation.

Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper met with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 31, updating them on their agenda for change at the institution.

Since January, a team led by Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker has investigated 56 cases of alleged rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment at the Air Force Academy.

"We are appalled and embarrassed by what we have found," Roche said.

The Air Force investigation completed a comprehensive review of the academy's programs and practices of deterring and responding to sexual-assault incidents, Roche said. Besides the general counsel's investigation, the allegations are being reviewed by the Department of Defense's inspector general and the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

"When the (inspector general) was asked to join, we had hoped they would ensure there was no sense that the Air Force was covering anything up," the secretary said.

Roche said the investigation's preliminary findings include a misplaced sense of loyalty among cadets.

"Many cadets are loyal to each other, rather than loyal to the values of our Air Force and the values of our country," he said. "In other words, they'd protect each other even when they know of incidents" they should report.

Roche said the investigation revealed repeated indications that the cadets' unwillingness to report a fellow cadet suggests a fear of ostracism and a belief that reporting criminal acts is inconsistent with the "cadet culture."

Other issues uncovered by the investigation include poor feedback procedures for victims of sexual assault, a discrepancy in terminology concerning alcohol use, and sexual humor.

While absolving current academy leadership of responsibility, Roche and Jumper have announced plans to replace both the superintendent, Lt. Gen. John R. Dallager, and commandant, Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, before the next class reports.

"While these officers should be replaced, due process suggests there is nothing about which you can accuse them of in the last 18 months," Roche said. "We're going to have a new climate, and we need to have new people in place."

Cadets will find new regulations concerning housing, alcohol consumption and student leadership requirements.

"The senior class is going to be made responsible for observing the actions of the other two classes towards the freshmen," Jumper said. "They have to be made responsible for the character, honor and integrity of the entire corps. That will be the test of their leadership -- how they help us get through this change in the climate."

Several senators, including John Warner and John McCain, suggested that an independent investigation was necessary.

Roche, however, said the general counsel's review will make an immediate impact.

"If we had tried to put together something from the outside, we'd still be working on the charter and personnel," Roche said. "We wanted to move quickly because we have new cadets coming in (June)."

By acting quickly to implement the first climate-changing measures, the Air Force can assure parents of incoming cadets that their children will be in a safe environment, Roche said.

"Once we have these initial steps in place, then I'm quite content to raise the issue of an independent review with the academy's Board of Visitors," Roche said. "At that point, if we need to bring in outsiders, we can do that."

According to Jumper, Air Force leaders are committed to getting to the bottom of the problems at the academy.

"I will spare no energy to make sure that corrections the American people have confidence in will be put in place," Jumper said.

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