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Panetta orders review of early training

Call comes as another ex-MTI pleads guilty

Sep. 28, 2012 - 02:20PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 28, 2012 - 02:20PM  |  
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced a sweeping review of all boot camps and entry-level training programs across the military to tackle the frequency of sexual assaults.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced a sweeping review of all boot camps and entry-level training programs across the military to tackle the frequency of sexual assaults. (Office of the Secretary of Defen)

A day after the conviction of a fifth ex-military training instructor in a high-profile sex scandal that has ensnared more than a dozen MTIs at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a sweeping review of all boot camps and entry-level training programs across the military to tackle the frequency of sexual assaults.

Staff Sgt. Jason Manko pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to wrongfully seeking and engaging in a sexual relationship with a technical training student.

The relationship began when the technical trainee sent Manko a friend request on Facebook, base spokesman Brent Boller said. Manko was not the woman's MTI, he said, and they had had very limited interaction while the woman was in basic training.

After becoming Facebook friends, Manko and the student exchanged messages, texts and photos of a sexual nature. The student also visited Manko at his home.

Manko will spend 45 days in confinement and serve another 30 days of hard labor, said Boller. Manko was reduced to airman first class and must also forfeit $500 a month in pay for three months. He will be allowed to remain in the Air Force for now, although he could be administratively discharged by a commander later, Boller said.

The prosecution had asked that Manko serve six months in jail, forfeit two-thirds of his pay and allowances for six months and be kicked out of the Air Force with a bad-conduct discharge, Boller said. The defense asked that Manko be allowed to remain in the service.

Manko is one of seven MTIs who have been charged with having improper contact with trainees. Another dozen remain under investigation in the scandal, which began in June 2011, when a recruit reported that a basic training instructor had sexually assaulted a fellow trainee.

That instructor, former Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, is serving a 20-year sentence for raping, sexually assaulting or having improper contact with 10 trainees who were either in his charge or in a "sister flight."

In addition to Manko and Walker, three other MTIs have been convicted for having illicit relationships with trainees. Charges against another trainer were withdrawn after new evidence came to light on the day he was scheduled for court-martial, but charges could be refiled, Boller said.

The seventh MTI to be charged, Sgt. Craig LeBlanc, is set to stand trial Oct. 7 for allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with two trainees, obstructing justice and violating a no-contact order.

An Article 32 hearing, or preliminary hearing, was scheduled for Oct. 1 on additional charges of violating a lawful general regulation and a lawful order and making a false official statement.

The sex scandal at Lackland is among the worst in military history. It has cost two colonels their jobs and led to an independent review by a two-star general and calls by dozens of lawmakers for congressional hearings.

The independent review, led by Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, is now being reviewed by the head of Air Education and Training Command and is expected to be made public in the near future.

Lackland "certainly contributed" to Panetta's Sept. 25 announcement of an internal probe across the services, said his spokesman, George Little. But the secretary has been concerned about sexual assaults for some time, Little said.

"This assessment will look across the services into several key areas, including the selection, training and oversight of basic training instructors and leaders who directly supervise initial military training for officers and enlisted personnel," the Pentagon said in a statement.

"The study will also look at the instructor-to-student ratio, the ratio of leaders in the chain of command to instructors, and consider the potential benefits of increasing the number of female instructors," it stated.

At Lackland, about 20 percent of recruits are female, compared with 8 percent of trainers.

It is the latest move by Panetta to crack down on sexual assaults in the military, which he estimates number about 19,000 each year. This year, Panetta changed rules for handling sexual assault complaints by requiring an O-6-level commander to review each case to determine whether it should be dismissed or investigated further.

The latest internal review also instructs the services to review how and when sexual assault prevention training is provided to new recruits and their trainers.

Panetta ordered each of the services to report back to him on the status of the review by Feb. 8.

At a higher level, Panetta also ordered the services to expand the training provided to officers preparing to assume command of a unit and their senior enlisted leaders. That training should include "interactive instruction with vignettes, exercises and classroom discussion," the Pentagon's report said.

The secretary said the services should develop those new training efforts by the end of the year and begin implementing them by March 30.

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