My San Antonio
By Sig Christenson
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said Monday she supports congressional hearings in a scandal that so far has resulted in 12 basic training instructors in San Antonio being investigated for illicit sexual contact with recruits.
Thirty-one female airmen in three squadrons have been identified as victims.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., asked the House Armed Services Committee to hold hearings. The panel's chairman hasn't responded to the request, and no hearing is scheduled.
Touring the Warrior and Family Support Center on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Hutchison was asked if she would call for hearings on the scandal at Lackland AFB or supported Speier's efforts.
“I think having the hearings is certainly appropriate,” she said, without elaborating.
The investigation began a year ago after an airman in the 326th Training Squadron accused Staff Sgt. Luis A. Walker of raping her. He is charged with sexual contact with 10 women and goes on trial July 16.
Three probes are under way, one by Air Force police and legal authorities into instructor misconduct; and another by an “inquiry team” looking into the 331st Training Squadron, where nine of the 12 instructors served. A third investigation will study all basic and technical training units.
Investigators will talk with more than 20,000 women who were in basic training at Lackland as part of efforts to gauge the scope of misconduct and find rogue instructors.
So far, only one airman — the one who accused Walker of rape — has came forward on her own to alert authorities. The others remained silent and, in some cases, lied to investigators after the instructors who reportedly assaulted the women pressured them to give false statements.
An Air Force lawyer overseeing prosecution of the instructors was asked if commanders were concerned that Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc, charged with having sex with two airmen, seems to have targeted them early in basic training. He's living with one of the women he is accused of assaulting.
“That's an overarching concern of the command, period, in addressing all of these cases, and it is one of the areas that the inquiry teams are looking into to determine if there's a systemic problem that led these (instructors) to allegedly scout trainees to start a relationship with,” said Col. Polly Kenny, staff judge advocate for the 2nd Air Force in Biloxi, Miss.
Rep. Charlie Gonzalez said he favors delaying hearings for a time while the Air Force continues its investigations.
“My preference would be that we let some of the investigation proceed and then come in and get some sort of report because then you will be able to judge the thoroughness of it and what is going to be done,” he said.
“To come in this early, it's almost like fact gathering, but it's not the kind of thorough fact gathering that you're going to have when the Air Force conducts its own investigation,” said Gonzalez, a San Antonio Democrat whose district includes Lackland.
Speier's office said there has been no response to a letter she wrote two weeks ago to the panel's chairman, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, seeking a hearing. A spokesman for the Armed Services Committee said the panel typically does not hold hearings on issues still in the military justice system. He said the committee would be briefed “in the near future” by the Air Force.
Speier said hearings should be held now, arguing that “Congress has an obligation to find out if there was a cover-up at Lackland” and if the problem is systemic.
Hutchison, meeting with reporters after touring the troop support center and giving a Purple Heart to a wounded GI, said she was “sick at heart that these things have happened.”
“I did not think it's endemic because our military is so strong and so good, and you're always going to have a few bad apples,” she said.
“I am satisfied that they are making everything available to those that might have also been victims to come forward,” Hutchison said, “and they will prosecute to the fullest extent possible those who are accused and give them a trial, and then punish them appropriately.”
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