If early indications are any sign, the investigation by the Air Force of criminal sexual violence within its basic and technical training centers will be woefully inadequate.
Brought to light by disclosures, over a three-year period at Lackland -- the Air Force's sole recruit training center -- there were 31 trainees who were alleged victims of rape, sexual assault or other sexual offenses by 12 instructors.
To address yet another military sexual assault scandal within our nation's military, on June 22, Major General Edward Rice, commander of the Air Education and Training Command in ordering the investigation at Lackland and "all training units" rightfully said, "It's important to look even deeper and wider to identify any systemic issues that may place our youngest airmen at risk in any basic or technical training environment."
Why then on July 17th, 2012 did Gen. Rice without the benefit of a completed investigation contradict himself by stating, "It is not an issue of an endemic problem throughout basic military training... it's more localized, and we are doing a very intensive investigation on that squadron."
What happened during those 3.5 weeks of the initial investigation to cause Gen. Rice to change his mind?
If there was any doubt that an independent Congressional hearing is required let that be put to rest by the contradictions in Gen. Rice's recent statements. Clearly, as we have seen far too often, institutions are challenged to investigate themselves, none more so then the military.
This is a matter of our national security -- Lackland demands a congressional investigation. Earlier this year Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called rape and sexual assault within the military a "silent epidemic." That declaration is nothing new to the nation's over half-million veterans who are survivors of this criminal behavior. It is an epidemic and has been one for decades. Nothing has changed.
Every single day, Protect Our Defenders, a human rights organization that supports our troops is receiving horrific new stories from our brave men and women in uniform that have been sexually assaulted, but have nowhere to turn. We are hearing from soldiers at bases all over nation to bases in the Middle East to those serving aboard ships. Our armed forces' top brass hasn't fixed the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in our military and it is very apparent it needs to be addressed legislatively. Hearings are part of this process.
This is why Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, no stranger to the failings of our military justice system has come forward again. More than 20 years ago, 87 servicewomen were sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. Navy, in what became known as the "Tailhook scandal." Paula was one of the 87. The Navy Lieutenant reported the incident to senior officers, but they did nothing. So in June 1992 she went public.
Paula met with President George H.W. Bush at the White House. The former president apparently started to cry as she told her story. He promised a full investigation. Unfortunately, 20 years later nothing has changed.
That's why Paula has joined Protect Our Defenders and decided to speak out again. She has launched a petition on Causes.com demanding Congress investigates sexual assaults at Lackland and then legislate fundamental reform. Working with Causes.com, we're building collective momentum to bring this issue to thousands of concerned citizens to demand change.
Thousands of you and 78 members of Congress have already joined Paula in asking Rep. Buck McKeon, the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) to open a congressional hearing about Lackland. But, there has been no response. Though, HASC Vice Chairman Mac Thornberry is quoted as saying, "My understanding is there is no evidence of a widespread problem."
This is unacceptable. Our troops deserve better.
Please join Paula and Protect Our Defenders and ask Rep. Buck McKeon how many soldiers need to be sexually assaulted before Congress acts? Sign Paula's petition on Causes.com today demanding Congress investigates Lackland.