June 28 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - June 28, 2012

            LT. COL. JOHN DORRIAN:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  It's my privilege today to welcome General Edward Rice, Jr., commander of Air Education and Training Command.  General Rice has been AETC commander since November of 2010.  AETC consists of 12 bases, almost 68,000 active-duty, Reserve, Guard, civilians, and contractors, and more than 1,300 trainer, fighter, and mobility aircraft.

            General Rice has been in Washington for the past couple of days, briefing members of Congress and their staffs on the comprehensive strategic review of the Air Force training community, as well as the ongoing investigations into military training instructor misconduct.  The general's here to discuss these topics today and to answer your questions.

            He'll have some brief opening remarks.  Then he'll ask -- take your questions.  In order to make sure that we can answer as many questions as possible, I'll select a reporter and ask that you limit yourself to a question and follow-up, and then let someone else ask theirs.  When you ask your question, please give your name and your organization.

            General Rice, sir, the floor is yours.

            GEN. EDWARD RICE:  Thank you all for coming today.  I'd like to make a brief statement and then open the floor to your questions.

            Let me begin by saying you're going to hear me use the word "alleged" numerous times today.  This is because most of the cases that I will discuss are still moving through the legal process, and it's important that we not prejudge any of these cases in any way and remember that each person that we are investigating is innocent until proven guilty.

            Basic military training in the United States Air Force is conducted at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.  Each year, approximately 35,000 young Americans complete the intensive eight-and-a-half-week training program and become the newest airmen in the United States Air Force.  The training program is administered by a cadre of some 500 military training instructors, or MTIs, who have been selected after undergoing a rigorous screening process and completing an intensive training program.

            The vast majority of these MTIs are great Americans, who live up to the high standards we demand of those who are entrusted with the critically important and sensitive mission of turning ordinary citizens into airmen. 

            In the fall of 2011, we discovered to our great disappointment that we had a number of MTIs who were alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct with trainees.  Some of this alleged misconduct occurred while the trainees were in basic military training, and some of this alleged misconduct occurred after the trainees graduated from BMT, but were still in what we call the technical training environment.  In the former cases, the trainees were under the direct supervision of the alleged perpetrator.  In the latter cases, they were not.

            That said, regardless of whether the activity occurred in basic military training or in the technical training environment, personal relationships of any kind between trainees and instructors is strictly prohibited by our regulations and our instructions.

            As soon as we received the first allegation of misconduct, we aggressively investigated the matter and further tightened those protective measures that were already in place.  For example, the training group commander and an interdisciplinary team, including the judge advocate, the sexual assault response coordinator, and the chaplain brief all trainees within 72 hours of their arrival on their rights and responsibilities to report misconduct.

            The training group commander reads every urgent sheet from a trainee within 24 hours.  It's a comment sheet that we have, so he reads very urgent comment sheet from a trainee within 24 hours, and any -- any allegation of sexual misconduct results in immediate action, including the instructor is removed from his or her flight, a no-contact order is issued, and the MTI hat which signifies -- identifies that person as an instructor is temporarily removed, pending investigations.

            Our commanders at every single level continue to aggressively work issues and to be as transparent as possible with the public.  Moreover, we worked diligently to identify the victims and provide them with care and support.  We have trained professionals at all of our bases to provide medical care and counseling for our airmen.

            We're also reviewing a series of actions to address systemic issues, such as expanded training for trainees, instructors, and leadership, reassessing the instructor selection process, hiring more instructors, and other initiatives.  These actions are designed to help us address the root causes of the issue.

            To help ensure we have left no stone unturned in this regard, I have also directed a review by a major general who was not assigned to Air Education and Training Command.  This external review will examine all the actions we have taken thus far to address this issue and provide me with feedback on what more we can do to prevent misconduct in our training environment and to strengthen our entire training enterprise.

            In closing, I want to underscore again that the vast majority of our 500 military training instructors are performing magnificently in a tremendously demanding environment.  No one -- no one is more angry and disappointed than they are that a relatively small number of their cadre has cast a shadow over the entire program.

            I am committed, as are they, and as everyone -- and as everyone who is involved in the basic military training program, we are all committed to doing everything possible to investigate those allegations, to take care of the victims, to hold the perpetrators accountable, and to fix any institutional problems that may have facilitated this completely unacceptable behavior.

            Thank you for your attention.  I'm ready to take your questions.

            Q:  What do you say to women out there who want to go to the Air Force, through the basic training?  How can they be assured that they will be protected going through this, given the large number of cases?

            GEN. RICE:  I would tell any young lady, as I would tell any young man --  the Air Force is a great way of life.  The feedback that we get from people who have gone through our training program, 98 percent to 99 percent of them say it's been a great training experience for them and that they're proud of being part of the Air Force and looking forward to serve.  So I would tell them to join and that they can be assured that we will continue to do everything that we can to -- excuse me -- provide them with a safe and secure training environment.

            Q:  How do you explain the large number of cases that have come about -- 12 cases here?  That's --

            GEN. RICE:  We have a very rigorous screening process and a training process in order to ensure that we are doing everything we can to provide instructors for our trainees who will live up to our high standards.  That said, our process is not perfect.  And as with other institutions, we on a continuing basis look at those processes and procedures in that entire training program to ensure that we are doing everything possible to get instructors who will adhere to our very high standards of conduct.

            And when we find someone who doesn't, as in this case, we take very aggressive action to identify them and hold them accountable for their actions.  And we will continue to do that.

            Q:  One of the airmen, Airman -- I believe it was Vega-Maldonado -- copped a plea, admitting that he had an improper relationship with one of the trainees, but then later, in an evidentiary hearing, he admitted that it wasn't one woman, it was 10.  Does that cause you to worry that there are many, many -- many cases out there that you haven't discovered yet?

            GEN. RICE:  We are taking a comprehensive look, not only at the cases that we know, but trying to do the best that we can to assess whether or not there are other cases out there.  So we have interviewed all of the basic military trainees who were -- at least we've given a survey to all the basic military trainees who were in training at that time, and we are broadening the scope of our investigation to ensure that we've done everything we can to identify the scope of what we are dealing with. 

            And at this point, we have identified some 31 victims and are actively seeking any others that may have been affected by this.

            Q:  General, Craig Whitlock with the Washington Post.  You know, you've talked about the screening process for instructors.  You know, these aren't just any people in the Air Force.  These are your instructors, dealing with recruits.  And as you made clear, the rules were pretty straightforward, in terms of sexual misconduct and harassment with recruits, are pretty black-and-white.  Is there a cultural problem, do you think, at Lackland, that you could have this number of instructors be implicated in investigations like this?  And is there a command climate problem there, as well?

            GEN. RICE:  I think it's important to note, I indicated we had 12 instructors that are under investigation.  Nine of those 12 were in one unit.  So we have an organization by squadron and basic military training.  We have a total of nine squadrons, and nine of them came from one squadron. 

            So in my assessment to this point, it is not an issue of an endemic problem throughout basic military training.  It is more localized, and we are doing a very intensive investigation on that squadron to find out what exactly happened and why.

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