Rep. Jackie Speier (AP)
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A member of the House Armed Services Committee says new leadership at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland will have some success in changing what she described as a culture of tolerance that permitted military training instructors to prey on young recruits. But nothing short of an overhaul of the military criminal justice system will ensure permanent change, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said following a nine-hour visit to the base Oct. 2.
"The new leadership at Lackland is genuine in their interest in scrubbing the sex scandal from the memories of those who work there and those that come through as trainees," said Speier, who was joined by Reps. Loretta Sanchez and Susan Davis, both California Democrats. "I have every confidence that they will make some inroads. But that could all be very temporary as leadership changes."
Speier called the reason for the visit "pretty obvious. Lackland represents the newest and probably the biggest sex scandal in the history of the military."
The congresswomen met with base leadership, MTIs and trainees, and prosecutors and investigators who are handling more than a dozen cases of rape, sexual assault and improper relationships between trainers and recruits.
The Air Force has charged seven MTIs so far; 12 more remain under investigation. Of those charged, five have been convicted; two await court-martial.
Speier also spoke to the MTIs who reported some of the abuses. "They became victims, as well. ... They are ostracized, they can't sleep," she said. One of those trainers, who has spent 12 years in the service, said he always planned to retire from the Air Force. Now he wants out.
Speier said one of the trainers' initial reports to supervisors was dismissed. "It wasn't until the second MTI reported it that they took it seriously."
The congresswoman talked to victims by phone during her visit, she said. "The sex scandal at Lackland becomes more egregious the more specifics you know about it. It was a veritable cesspool."
The Air Force said it has already made multiple changes at basic training to try to prevent a repeat of the scandal. It also installed new leadership in September.
More changes may be coming. Gen. Edward Rice, head of Air Education and Training Command, is reviewing recommendations from an independent investigation of basic military training.
Speier has called for a new method of reporting sexual assaults. A recent change in Defense Department policy requires such complaints to be handled by an O-6 or higher — instead of by an immediate supervisor.
Speier said sexual assaults should never be handled within the chain of command. "It's a conflict of interest," she said.