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6 US Military Instructors Charged With Sexual Offense Against Women Trainees

The U.S. Air Force has charged six basic training instructors with varying sexual misconduct offenses against women trainees and is investigating similar allegations against six others, the senior officer in charge of Air Force training said on Thursday.

Gen. Edward Rice Jr., Commander of Air Education & Training Command, told Pentagon reporters that the instructors charged or under investigation had been training newly-recruited airmen at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

All of the suspected instructors were men, and all 31 of the potentially victimized recruits were women, the General said. None of the instructors was currently in contact with trainees, he added.

Rice noted that most of the men are still under investigation or in the military trial process, and all are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Rice said he was "extremely disappointed … that this would happen in an environment that we very much want to be a safe and secure environment for any young person who comes in."

The investigation suggests the alleged incident dates back to fall of 2009, and allegations surfaced between June and November of 2011. Some allegations involve relations between instructors and trainees that occurred after the trainees had completed basic training and were no longer under the instructors' direct supervision.

Air Force Maj-Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, acting Director of operational planning, policy and strategy, will conduct a parallel review of AETC's response to the charges and to recommend possible further actions.

Rice said he had put several measures in place to safeguard and educate trainees. All trainees reporting to Lackland now receive briefings within their first 72 hours on base from the training group commander, a legal representative, a sexual assault coordinator and a chaplain.

Trainees have daily access to a number of comment boxes to register concerns, which will be looked upon within 24 hours, and Rice vowed that "any allegation of sexual misconduct results in immediate action."

"Any instructor who is the subject of an allegation is suspended from duty and forbidden contact with trainees pending investigation," he added.

The General noted 98 to 99 percent of all trainees surveyed rated their training experience as positive. Lackland trains about 35,000 new airmen -- 22 percent of whom are women -- every year in an eight-and-a-half-week basic training program. Eleven percent of the 500 training instructors are women.

Rice said he was considering whether to make instructor selection process more rigorous.

The Air Force launched a series of investigations on basic military training instructors after a case involving Staff Sgt. Luis Walker surfaced. A trainee accused Walker in June 2011 of sexually assaulting her, according to Air Force reports.

Walker was relieved of duty and will appear in court on July 16 to face a general court-martial on 28 charges.

One former instructor, then-Staff Sgt., Peter Vega-Maldonado, pleaded guilty earlier this month to charges of an improper relationship with a trainee and violation of a no-contact order. He was sentenced to 90 days confinement, forfeiture of $500 pay per month for four months, 30 days hard labor and reduction in rank to airman. In testimony against other accused instructors, Vega-Maldonado admitted to improper sexual conduct with several other women.

Nine of the 12 accused instructors came from one unit, the 331st Training Squadron. The officer who commanded that unit from 2009 to earlier this month was relieved of duty, Rice said.

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