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Tim Blagg

Military sex assaults awful

Scandals should be totally preventable

Some 20 years ago, my daughter graduated from Greenfield High School and joined the Air Force.

It was a good decision for her, one my wife and I had supported for several years. It gave her structure and a sense of belonging, taught her a profession she followed for years and brought her together with her husband.

She would have stayed in the service for a career, I think, if the Bushes had managed to stay out of the Middle East. As it was, she served for 10 years and now qualifies for VA medical care.

My dad served in the Air Force for more than 30 years, through three wars, and I did a stint in the Army.

My family considers military service an honorable profession, and has since the French and Indian War.

It never entered my mind, however, that by encouraging Patti to go off to Basic Training in Texas that I was exposing her to the danger of being sexually molested.

Today, I might think differently.

Apparently, despite loads of “protections” against such acts by superior officers and non-coms against enlisted personnel, such predatory acts have become all-too common.

A new study estimates that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, but fewer than 3,400 reported the incident, and nearly 800 of them sought help but declined to file official complaints.

There is an ongoing investigation into more than 30 Air Force instructors for assaults on trainees at a Texas base — Patti’s training base! And just a few weeks ago, the Air Force’s head of sexual assault prevention was arrested on charges of groping a woman in a Northern Virginia parking lot.

That stinks.

It profanes the memory of all those thousands who served valiantly, sacrificing their lives and civilian opportunities for their country.

And it’s absolutely preventable.

If any organization should be able to control such behavior, it’s the military.

Commanders are responsible for knowing what is going on in their commands — from combat proficiency to morale. Regardless of whether an assault is reported officially (estimates are that as many as 22,000 occurred in 2012) a good commander will use his or her sergeants to find out if there are any predators in the ranks — and find ways to get rid of them.

The reports have sparked reaction, of course. “I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training, or ultimately folks look the other way,” said President Obama recently. “We’re going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game to go after this hard.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military “may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need.”

“Sexual assault is a crime that is incompatible with military service and has no place in this department,” Hagel said. “It is an affront to the American values we defend, and it is a stain on our honor. DoD needs to be a national leader in combating sexual assault and we will establish an environment of dignity and respect, where sexual assault is not tolerated, condoned or ignored.”

Unfortunately, that’s not the signal the Pentagon has been sending.

Take the case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, for example. Wilkerson, a fighter pilot, had been accused and convicted in a court martial of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman.

But his conviction was overturned by Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force, who argued that he overruled the guilty verdict from an all-male jury because he had “nagging doubts about the accuser’s credibility.”

Wilkerson had been sentenced to a year in the brig and discharge from the Air Force, but has since returned to active duty.

And then, there’s Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, a veteran of five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, who has just been charged with forcible sodomy, multiple counts of adultery and having inappropriate relationships with several female subordinates.

It only takes a few cases like that for ordinary enlisted personnel to conclude that they can’t possibly get justice in a system run by the “good old boys” club.

If Patti was considering enlisting today, I’m not sure I would approve.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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