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Most MTI charges since 2000 reduced or dropped

Dec. 3, 2012 - 08:10AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 3, 2012 - 08:10AM  |  
Female airmen march during graduation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Just a quarter of the misconduct cases brought against military training instructors since 2000 have gone to court-martial.
Female airmen march during graduation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Just a quarter of the misconduct cases brought against military training instructors since 2000 have gone to court-martial. (John L. Mone / The Associated Press)
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Just more than 2 percent of military training instructors over the past dozen years have faced allegations of misconduct in a corps that has recently come under the microscope amid an ongoing sex scandal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

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Just more than 2 percent of military training instructors over the past dozen years have faced allegations of misconduct in a corps that has recently come under the microscope amid an ongoing sex scandal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

The charges are wide-ranging, from dereliction of duty, disrespect of a senior noncommissioned officer and drunken driving to illegal drug use, rape and child pornography, a review of all MTI misconduct cases provided by Air Education and Training Command found.

Just a quarter of the cases went to court-martial. The rest were handled in private administrative hearings. Penalties ran the gamut, from letters of reprimand to reductions in rank, dishonorable discharges and prison time.

Although recent charges against trainers have been sexual in nature — 25 instructors investigated for improper contact with recruits in less than a year and a half — the list of allegations against MTIs since 2000 show they also engaged in other kinds of misconduct.

A third of all the offenses involved accusations of maltreatment or maltraining. Maltreatment can be physical — poking, pushing, grabbing, hazing or intimidation — or verbal, such as using profanity or language that "degrades, belittles, demeans or slanders," according to the Air Force. Maltraining includes abusive and excessive physical training.

One trainer assaulted his girlfriend at an off-base residence. A staff sergeant accepted a computer from his basic training flight as a gift and said it was a birthday present from his mother. Another MTI "altered his fitness score sheet."

In a case handled administratively in 2001, two staff sergeants took a trainee to several clubs one night, then returned him to base. An MTI in 2011 went AWOL three times and "admitted to being addicted to OxyContin and heroin."

Over the 12-year period, an average of 10 out of 455 trainers per year was accused of misconduct. A handful was acquitted at court-martial or saw their cases dismissed.

"The number does not strike me as inordinately high," said Victor Hansen, a law professor and vice president of the National Institute of Military Justice, although "it reflects to some degree those who are selected for those responsibilities.

"They are scrutinized fairly heavily. There is a fairly rigorous screening process. It's not like just everyone can do it," Hansen said. "Like any organization, the service is not going to be without people who engage in various forms of misconduct."

Gen. Edward Rice, head of AETC, recently announced 45 changes to basic training intended to cut down on trainer misconduct. The changes were recommended by the Air Force chief of safety, Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, who led an independent investigation into the service's training units.

Her review revealed an insulated environment in which young, inexperienced and at times immature airmen had too much power and not enough oversight. They were also routinely overworked: Between 2003 and 2012, more trainer positions were authorized than were filled every year except for one, according to the 37th Training Wing.

The most dramatic example was in 2011, when 476 trainers were assigned despite 564 authorized slots.

An appearance that leadership tolerated trainer misconduct, as well as the disparate handling of cases, contributed to the basic training culture now in need of mending, Woodward wrote in the report.

The 12-year look at MTI misconduct provides examples of that.

In April 2010, a staff sergeant accused of wrongful use of marijuana had his case handled administratively. In the end, he had to forfeit $1,146 for two months.

A staff sergeant accused of the same crime in July 2002 went to court-martial, where he was busted down to airman basic, sentenced to 90 days in confinement and given a bad-conduct discharge.

The majority of punishments handed down in administrative proceedings were not carried out. Penalties were suspended either partially or entirely in 56 of these 93 cases — about 60 percent of the time. Allegations against four trainers facing nonjudicial punishment were dropped.

In one incident, an accusation of maltraining against a staff sergeant resulted in a reduction to senior airman and forfeiture of $450 for two months following an Article 15 hearing. All but forfeiture of $450 for one month was suspended. The entire penalty was reinstated after the instructor got in trouble again — this time for striking a recruit.

Other cases include:

• A staff sergeant who stole money provided for basic trainee T-shirts and "lied multiple times" to the first sergeant and superintendent got a reprimand after his rank reduction was suspended.

• A technical sergeant who had a sexual relationship with a basic trainee after graduation and used his government computer to view pornography got a reprimand and had to forfeit $1,475 for two months. A reduction to E-5 was suspended.

• The MTIs who took a recruit out to clubs and offered him alcohol and a change of clothes got reprimands; the initial punishment called for a reduction in rank for one of the trainers and forfeiture of pay for both.

• A staff sergeant found guilty in 2003 of possessing child pornography and twice sexually assaulting a child was busted to E-1 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The AETC commander said he is implementing a number of changes to better screen airmen for MTI positions, including raising the requirement from senior airman to technical sergeant and designing a mental health criteria specific to the post.

At an advanced BMT leadership orientation course, MTIs will review "lessons-learned case studies" on abuses of power, wrongful sexual contact, sexual harassment, unprofessional relationships and maltreatment.

"We have to support them over time to help them continue to have the resiliency to not be influenced by the corruptive pieces of power," Rice said.

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