Nine instructor pilots at Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas have been implicated in scandals stemming from an investigation into whether one of the pilots was having a sexual unprofessional relationship with a student, officials told Air Force Times on Thursday.
Among the nine are three instructor pilots who were grounded and stripped of their wings for text messages that they claim were misunderstood by investigators, as Air Force Times reported Oct. 19.
Here is the breakdown of the charges and investigations:
- Two pilots were court-martialed and pleaded guilty to having sexual unprofessional relationships.
- One is still under investigation for alleged sexual unprofessional relationships.
- Four were accused of drug use from text messages found on their phones. One of them was cleared at an Article 15. The other three were grounded and received letters of reprimand; two of them are also accused of not informing superiors of sexual unprofessional relationships they knew about.
- One other pilot is accused of not reporting sexual unprofessional relationships he knew about.
- One was disciplined administratively for a non-sexual but unprofessional relationship.
"The Air Force has the responsibility of ensuring safety, both in the flying environment and in the training environment," said Lt. Col. John Fredland, chief of military justice for Air Education and Training Command. "The Air Force carries out these responsibilities by upholding good order and discipline."
"Flying is a privilege here, not a right," Fredland told Air Force Times in an interview. "Command received information that it could not ignore in a risk-management sense and so that’s why we went down these paths."
Fredland outlined the investigations as follows:
Capt. Christopher Hill pleaded guilty on Monday to adultery; having a sexual unprofessional relationship with a student pilot; fraternizing with three enlisted airmen, one of whom he had sex with; making a false official statement; failing to obey a no-contact order to stay away from the student pilot and obstruction of justice, Fredland told Air Force Times. Per a pre-trial agreement, Hill was sentenced to 45 days' confinement and dismissal from the Air Force.
In May 2014, a squadron commander received an allegation that Hill was having a sexual unprofessional relationship with a student pilot, prompting a commander-directed investigation into Hill, Fredland said. During the investigation, Hill's wife told Hill's commander that her husband was having sex with the student and that Hill and the student had violated a no-contact order.
With evidence of the sexual relationship, the investigation fell into the purview of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Fredland said.
OSI later discovered that Hill had buried an iPad, a and cellphone, and an external hard drive with sexually graphic pictures of the student pilot and the enlisted airman with whom he had sex, said Maj. Jacquelyn Christilles, a reservist who is assigned to the 502nd Air Base Wing Staff Judge Advocate.
During the commander-directed investigation into Hill, the investigating officer received an allegation that another instructor pilot, 1st Lt. Kevin Sheehan, was in a sexual unprofessional relationship with a student pilot, Fredland said.
OSI launched an investigation into Sheehan and the student pilot in question confirmed that the two had consensual sex about one week before her graduation, Fredland said. Investigators also learned that Sheehan had a second sexual unprofessional relationship with another student pilot and he had tried to have an intimate unprofessional relationship with a third student pilot, whose buttocks he was accused of grabbing.
Sheehan pleaded guilty to the two sexual unprofessional relationships but a military judge found him not guilty of two offenses related to third student pilot, Fredland said. On Sept. 29, Sheehan was sentenced to 100 days' confinement and forfeiture of pay, but he was not dismissed from the Air Force.
While investigating Sheehan, witnesses told OSI that a third instructor pilot may have been involved in sexual unprofessional relationships with student pilots, Christilles said.
"That instructor pilot has not been charged, so I cannot go into any specific allegations against him," said Fredland, who declined to identify the instructor pilot.
It was in the course of looking into the allegations against the third instructor pilot that investigators found text messages from four other instructor pilots that contained apparent references to drug use.
Those four instructor pilots claimed they were actually making cultural references to club and rap songs that use the word "Molly," which is a term for the illegal drug ecstasy. One song that the pilots used as a motif was Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop."
Two of the instructor pilots are flight commanders, Fredland said. Investigators believe that those two along with a third flight commander knew about some of the alleged sexual unprofessional relationships yet failed to report them as they are required to do under an AETC instruction, Fredland said.
"If you are an AETC faculty or staff member and you know that one of your fellow faculty or staff members is involved in an unprofessional relationship, it's your obligation to go forward to command and say, 'Hey, look, there's misconduct going on here; I know about it,'" Fredland said.
Two of the flight commanders agreed to public nonjudicial punishment proceedings and one did not, said Fredland, who declined to provide further information, citing privacy concerns.
"We can't go into that because some of them have not yet been resolved," Fredland said.
The grounded pilots appealed their case to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who has been advocating that the letters of reprimand be rescinded. The three all passed drug tests.
"It would be entirely stupid for the Air Force to try, then to even assume that if they can't get any of these pilots on this ridiculous claim of suspected drug use, that they might be able to get them on the fact that maybe one or others might have known about an unprofessional relationship – or might have heard of something and failed to report that," Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper told Air Force Times on Friday.
Airmen should not be required to report what they overhear and other unproven allegations, Kasper said.
"How fast can the Air Force create distrust within its own ranks and create a process and an environment in which people are not even trusting each … if these guys are constantly being forced to rat on each other, not even knowing if the allegations are true?"
AETC spokesman Col. Sean McKenna clarified that only AETC faculty and staff are required to report unprofessional relationships, not all airmen.
Kasper also said he has contacted the Air Force about a Facebook post by a public affairs officer at Laughlin, who made a joke about buying cheap LSD, which Kasper claims is the same type of banter for which the three instructor pilots received letters of reprimand.
AETC is aware of the Facebook post in question, McKenna said.
"The comment by the PA [public affairs] member was posted in response to a friend's comment," McKenna said. "47th Flying Training Wing leadership have spoken with the individual and they are handling the matter appropriately."