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Air Force Names New Leaders to Run Its Troubled Academy

Top brass also announce other measures to respond to a sexual assault scandal but resist calls for an independent review of problems at the school.

March 27, 2003|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Top military officials on Wednesday named a new slate of leaders for the U.S. Air Force Academy and announced other measures in response to a sexual assault scandal that has shaken the elite officer training school.

But Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and the Air Force's chief of staff, Gen. John P. Jumper, continued to resist calls from critics for an independent review panel to help the academy reform. They also declined to blame the outgoing leaders of the academy for problems that they said go back years.

"We still believe this is one of the finest institutions in the world," Roche told reporters at the Pentagon. "It stumbled, and now it's got to get fixed."

The Air Force has documented at least 56 allegations of sexual assault or harassment at the academy over the last decade, officials said, 16 of them under the current leadership. Many current and former female cadets say the military turned a deaf ear to their pleas for help and in some instances punished victims instead of assailants.

Jumper and Roche pledged to reform the academy to prevent such abuse.

"We have to change that climate," Jumper said.

After the sexual assault scandal began to emerge in January, Jumper and Roche said they moved swiftly to build a new culture of safety and respect among cadets entering the academy in June -- including 218 women.

To that end, they said, Maj. Gen. John W. Rosa Jr. would be named superintendent of the 4,200-cadet academy effective in June, pending a presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. The current superintendent, Lt. Gen. John R. Dallager, had been scheduled to retire then.

Rosa is deputy director for current operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A 1973 graduate of the South Carolina military school The Citadel, he is a former commandant of the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

Jumper, who is the top military officer in the Air Force, praised Rosa as "a man of impeccable character and leadership qualities" who has "worked with females throughout his military career and obviously very successfully."

The announcements came a day after Air Force officials told lawmakers of the impending shake-up at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

In addition to Dallager's previously planned departure, officials said, Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, the academy's commandant of cadets, would be reassigned to the Pentagon under the deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs.

Two others in the academy leadership are also to be reassigned: Col. Robert D. Eskridge, vice commandant of cadets; and Col. Laurie S. Slavec, the 34th Training Group commander.

The Air Force officials praised the outgoing leaders, despite widespread criticism of the academy's handling of the assault allegations. Jumper called them all "fine officers with tremendous records."

The new leaders include two graduates of the academy. Brig. Gen.-select Johnny A. Weida, from the class of 1978, is expected to replace Gilbert in April. At about the same time, Col. Debra D. Gray, from the class of 1980, will replace Eskridge and serve in a newly defined role as ombudsman in charge of expediting sexual assault cases. The fourth new leader named was Col. Clada A. Monteith, a deputy director of security forces for the Air Force in Europe who will replace Slavec.

The Air Force clarified Wednesday that Col. Steve Eddy, the academy's vice superintendent, is not being replaced, contrary to information provided the day before. His position is to be eliminated, but he will remain as a staff director.

The Air Force also announced a series of steps meant to help stamp out rape, sexual assault and intimidation of female cadets.

Incoming classes will be given enhanced training on "sexual assault prevention and overall behavior expected of cadets."

Female cadets will be clustered near each other in dormitories. No cadet will be allowed to enter the room of a cadet of the opposite sex without knocking on the door and waiting for it to be opened. Cadets will have to keep doors "fully open" when visitors are in dormitory rooms.

To encourage reporting of sexual assaults, the academy is also waiving disciplinary action against cadets who may have witnessed an incident -- except for the alleged assailant, those who hinder an investigation and certain others.

And in a step to encourage gender equality, the Air Force is removing a large sign on campus that declares "Bring Me Men ..."

Jumper and Roche said such steps were only a beginning. They said ongoing investigations could yet lead to disciplinary actions against implicated officers.

But critics said Wednesday's announcement fell far short of the overhaul the academy needs. Some said the Air Force is incapable of reform on its own.

"They can't fix the problems themselves," said Dorothy Mackey, a former Air Force captain who co-founded an advocacy group called Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel. "They know the system is not going to be fixed from the inside. It is a tainted system."

But in an appearance Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee, Roche said the Air Force would "learn about the problem and deal with it ourselves rather than turning to some outsiders who may not understand the culture as well."

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) replied: "That is a troubling statement, because it is the culture of the last 10 years which has allowed this scandal to grow rather than to disappear. And that culture needs to be changed, clearly."

Roche agreed, but he faulted the academy's culture, not that of the Air Force as a whole.

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