Leaders address sexual assault at academy

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The Air Force's senior leaders vowed March 3 to work closely with Congress to uncover the facts behind recent sexual assault cases and to address the broader climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy in a comprehensive manner.

"There is no place in our Air Force for anyone who would assault a woman, harbor those who do or shun anyone who seeks to report a crime," said Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche. "We will leave no stone unturned in our examination of this problem, and make no mistake: we will be undeterred from taking any and all actions to fix it."

Those remarks, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper, are consistent with a commitment to enhance "officership, character and judgment" at the academy.

"The Air Force Academy is one of our nation's most precious institutions and a critical source of future leaders of our Air Force," Jumper said. "We do not want criminals those who cover for criminals, or those who would stigmatize a victim. A person who disregards the dignity of another in this manner is not the person we want to entrust with the defense of our nation."

Roche and Jumper promised that Air Force leaders will not "gloss over this issue" by simply instituting more sexual education training or lectures, but that they would instead seek to align the culture of the academy more closely with the rest of the Air Force. In addition, the two Air Force leaders welcomed the calls from members of Congress to establish two related efforts to review the issues and cases.

Sen. John Warner wrote to the deputy undersecretary of defense for manpower and Reserve affairs to review the Air Force's efforts as well as policies at the other service academies. In addition, Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman recently requested that the Department of Defense's inspector general conduct an investigation into the specific allegations of sexual assault raised to date.

Sen. Wayne Allard, a member of the Academy Board of Visitors, alerted the Air Force to additional individual cases and made suggestions on improving the climate at the academy.

In addition, members of the House of Representatives, including Tom Tancredo, Curt Weldon, Joel Hefley and Heather Wilson have also been working with Air Force officials to resolve these allegations and the circumstances behind them.

Roche said the work of the Congress has been instrumental in getting any potential problems resolved at the academy.

"When Congressman Tancredo first referred a case concerning one of his constituents to our attention, we began a review that was accelerated as a result of subsequent communications from former cadets to Air Force headquarters and to Senator Allard's office," the secretary said. "General Jumper and I deeply appreciate the contributions of Congressman Tancredo and Senator Allard to this effort."

Jumper lauded the work of members from both houses of Congress on the academy issue.

"It is only fitting that our nation's representatives engage to protect our country's most vital resources: the men and women who will one day lead our military," the general said.

Members of an Air Force fact-gathering team tasked with looking into the sexual assault allegations at the academy returned to the Pentagon Feb. 28.

Roche and Jumper formed the working group to review the sexual assault programs, policies and procedures in place at the academy and other commissioning sources.

The group will consider whether policies and procedures were implemented properly, to include prosecution of the accused and proper assistance to victims. The eight members will bring the information they gathered during a two-week period to a working group headed by Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker.

In addition, Roche traveled to the academy on Feb. 27 and addressed the entire cadet population on character, leadership and his expectations of the prospective officers in attendance. Jumper will go to the academy in early March to hold a special "commander's call" with academy leaders and cadets.

Roche said he, along with Jumper and Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Dallager, will get to the bottom of the allegations, and they will also address broader policy and programs to instill confidence in the academy. An initial set of findings and directives is expected by the end of March. The secretary said that only a small percentage of cadets are involved in these types of crimes, and that while such behavior should not reflect upon the rest of the cadet wing, all of the academy community must be part of the solution.

"We must not let the criminal behavior of a few taint the character of the cadet wing, who are working hard to prepare themselves to be leaders in our Air Force," Roche said. "Nor will we sacrifice due process or basic tenets of fairness and justice in pursuing this matter. But we must be clear: without the active commitment of all cadets -- and especially male cadets -- we will not eradicate this scourge from the academy."

Jumper agreed with the secretary's comments.

"The vast majority of cadets live up to the highest expectations of honor and integrity, and a major part of the solution lies with them," Jumper said. "We will do everything we can from a policy standpoint, and the administration will be accountable for their leadership actions. But it will take the entire cadet wing to make the Air Force Academy a safe place that lives up to its reputation as a premier educational institution, teaching only the highest standards of moral character and excellence."