Two lawmakers are urging the Defense Department to finish the two-year investigation of two Virginia Air National Guard pilots who publicly blew the whistle on oxygen problems that were plaguing the F-22. (Air Force)
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Two lawmakers are urging the Defense Department to finish the two-year investigation of two Virginia Air National Guard pilots who publicly blew the whistle on oxygen problems that were plaguing the F-22.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sent the letter May 1 to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reminding the department that Capt. Joshua Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon are under the protection of the Military Whistleblower Protection Act. The two pilots appeared on “60 Minutes” on May 6, 2012, and said they were not comfortable flying the jet at the time. Since then, the pilots have been assigned to desk jobs, lost their flight pay, and served with letters of reprimand, negative evaluations and career-ending flight evaluation boards, the letter states. The Defense Department’s investigation is still not complete.
“This drawn-out process sends a chilling message throughout the Air Force, and in all service branches, that if you come forward as a whistleblower to report wrongdoing, there is a high likelihood that your career will be derailed, you may lose pay and benefits, and you and your family will suffer retaliation,” the letter states. “This cannot stand. We must provide an accountable system where people who come forward can feel free to do so without fear of retaliation.”
In 2012, the Air Force told Congress that the pilots would receive whistleblower protection.
“My understanding is that the chief and secretary have issued direction that these individuals are protected,” Lt. Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, head of Air Force Materiel Command, told the Senate Armed Services committee in May 2012.
The Air Force grounded the F-22 from May 2011 to September 2011 because of pilots’ complaints of hypoxia-like symptoms during flight. Since the grounding, 11 pilots and five maintainers complained of the symptoms.
In July 2012, the Air Force said it identified the root cause of the problem: a malfunctioning valve on the pilot’s Combat Edge life support vest, which was improperly tightening and constricting breathing. The problem has been fixed, and the Air Force is also on track to install an automatic backup oxygen system by April 2015.■