Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh announced a servicewide health and welfare inspection starting today to identify offensive materials in work spaces. (Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill / Army National Guard)
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Commanders and supervisors in all corners of the Air Force will conduct a widespread sweep of all work spaces and public areas starting today, looking for pictures, calendars and other materials that objectify women.
The order covers all active, reserve and Air National Guard units and must be completed by Dec. 17.
Pictures of scantily clad women in calendars, posters or in briefing slides have no place in a professional workplace, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who ordered the service-wide health and welfare inspection.
Welsh has emphasized the need to stop sexual assaults and harassment in the workplace since coming to office in August, and he told Air Force Times he had received multiple complaints about images, jokes and comments that made women and some men uncomfortable. The complaints indicated that many women felt they had to "go along to get along" with offensive images and comments if they wanted to steer clear of trouble.
"In my view, all this stuff is connected. If we're going to get serious about things like sexual assault, we have to get serious about an environment that could lead to sexual harassment. In some ways this stuff can all be linked," Welsh said Dec. 4. "I'm not saying every case is linked, but it could be linked, and why would we want to tolerate there even being a chance of that?"
Welsh said Air Force Secretary Michael Donley issued the inspection order at his request.
"After talking to a number of our female officers and NCOs, I believe that there is a potential that this is a problem in more than those isolated areas," Welsh said. "Quite frankly, if we have 20 percent of our people who don't feel that they are fully respected and valued for all the incredible talents and the dedication they bring to the job, then that's just not the Air Force we want to be."
On Nov. 15, Welsh, Donley and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy acknowledged in a letter to airmen that the service expects more than 700 reports of sexual assault this year — 100 more than in 2011. Also this year: a sexual assault scandal at basic training involving close to two dozen military training instructors, 11 of whom have been charged so far.
Health and welfare inspections are often used by unit commanders, command chiefs and first sergeants as a tool to identify a localized problem, such as drug use among unit members.
"Quite honestly, I'm not sure what we'll find," Welsh said. "There might not be that many places where it's a problem; there might be a number of places where it's a problem. I don't know. That's part of my concern. That's why we're not going to waste time trying to figure it out one place at a time."
Welsh directed commanders to conduct the inspections Nov. 28 on a Wing Commanders Call. Commanders must report on their findings by Dec. 17, Welsh said.
The sweep is for things that Welsh said would be reminiscent of an all-male military that Air Force leaders might have believed were eliminated 20 or 30 years ago.
"You know, briefing slides that show a half-dressed woman for some reason. Inappropriate calendars on a wall, jokes being told at the beginning of a squadron meeting that are just off-color, and nobody appreciates them," Welsh said. "It's the environmental stuff that has somebody going, ‘Well I really didn't need to listen to that today. I don't need to walk into the door to see that on the side of the guy's cubicle.'"
Commanders and supervisors will not inspect personal computers, personal email accounts or other personal property.
"Nobody's going to be going through somebody's pockets in their coat in a locker or through their personal drawers," Welsh said. "The intent here is not to do a witch hunt."
However, anything found that could be construed as a violation of law or regulation will be dealt with, Welsh said.
"If the commanders during this inspection find things that cross the line between stupid and criminal, I expect them to do their job within all the appropriate guidelines and authorities that they have to do that," he said.