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Segregated Air Force Training: Not the Answer

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Robbin Cresswell / USAF / Getty Images

Airman Basic Amy Ting "low-crawls" on the U.S. Air Force basic military training confidence course February 18, 2002, at Lackland Air Force Base. After escaping from the New York World Trade Center Marriott hotel minutes before it collapsed on September 11, 2001, the young woman decided to turn from actress to airman. After completing six weeks of mental and physical conditioning, she graduated February 22, 2002 from Air Force basic military training.

Air Force leaders are conducting a closed-door briefing on Thursday with the House Armed Services Committee to discuss developments in the criminal investigation into pervasive sexual assaults occurring at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Concerns about the Air Force’s response to the widespread misconduct at Lackland are growing amid revelations that the number of Military Training Instructors (MTI) involved has increased to 15 and the number of trainee victims has grown to 38.

Congress has called for hearings, and earlier in the week, Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, placed a hold on the nomination of General Mark Walsh to take over as head of the Air Force. The senator stated that the hold will stand until he is satisfied that the Air Force leadership is adequately addressing the situation at Lackland and taking corrective steps to reform their training program.

One of the changes proposed by the head of the Air Force’s training command is to segregate women trainees into separate training units. This idea was one of the first proposed by the Air Force shortly after the scandal broke, but it is a misguided effort. Not only will it fail to stop military sexual assault, but it will also have negative long-term consequences on the effectiveness and readiness of the Air Force.

This idea perpetuates the common myth that military sexual assault only happens to women.

On the contrary, there is plenty of data to show that military sexual assault is not a gender issue.

Pentagon data collected annually on sexual assaults shows that in fiscal year 2010, nearly 400 of the reported 3,192 sexual assaults were attacks on men. The Veterans Administration reports that 40% of the 65,000 veterans being treated for the traumatic effects of sexual assault are men.

The U.S. Marine Corps is currently the only service that segregates women in basic training. Last year, 20 of the 330 sexual assaults in the Marines occurred at their segregated boot camps at Parris Island and San Diego.

Isolating female trainees into separate units will not make sexual assault go away at Lackland (it is interesting to note that although the Marines are the only service to maintain segregated training for enlisted recruits, Marine officer training remains gender integrated.)

The problem at Lackland is not with the population of trainees; it exists with the MTIs, and within the officer leadership. Any effective solution must be directed at those two groups, not at the trainees.

Separating the troops by gender will not address the systematic misuse and abuse of authority by the MTIs, and will do nothing about the extraordinary lack of leadership shown by the officer corps at Lackland.

Continued discussion of trainee segregation by the Air Force leadership is a straw-man argument that shifts focus away from real solutions. Such fixes include providing a climate where trainees are safe to report misconduct, instituting supervisory methods to ensure training rules are strictly followed, swiftly and consistently punishing any misconduct, ensuring MTIs have adequate supervision during afterhours routine, and maintaining strict accountability within the chain of command.

Really want to solve this problem? For every MTI punished, at least two officers should be as well.

The mantra in the military is we train as we fight, so segregating trainees by gender makes for bad training. It does nothing to prepare entry-level troops to function in the current military force structure, and completely ignores the realities of the modern battlefield.

Military women are serving in more and more military occupations, and the presence of women on the battlefield and in combat-ready deployable units is on the rise. All the services agree that the effectiveness and readiness of the military is based on having the best and the brightest people this country can provide serving in its ranks (to its credit, the Air Force has led the way in this respect, opening up 99% of its military occupations to women).

For the Air Force to deal with sexual assaults by resurrecting an archaic training process is not a corrective step. It is a misstep.

Putting the men on one side of the PT field and women on the other is not good leadership; it is geography.

The Air Force’s senior leadership needs to maintain focus on the real problems at Lackland:

– it needs to clean house and assign strong male and female officers who will enforce rules and demand accountability from their subordinates.

– it needs to incentivize and elevate the job of the MTI and bring in teams of highly-qualified and rigorously-screened men and women to serve in those critical roles.

– And the senior leadership must be steadfast in its commitment to provide the very best training that prepares entry-level troops for the realities of military service both off and on the battlefield, for both men and women.

Greg Jacob served in the U.S. Marine infantry in both the enlisted and officer ranks from 1994 to 2004. He is currently the policy director at Service Women’s Action Network and can be reached at policy@servicewomen.org.

 

15 comments
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Jen Pirante
Jen Pirante

I agree that segregated training does not completely solve or address the problem, but it's a start.  The problem is clearly with leadership. That cannot be denied. However, what I liked about Marine Corps training was that I built a particular camaraderie with other female Marines that I did not feel during the following month at Marine Combat Training where we were integrated with male troops and male instructors.  My platoon never interacted with male troops/instructors during the 13 months at basic training, so again I find myself surprised and perplexed by the numbers presented.  But, I get the bigger picture.  Not all sexual assault is male-on-female, nor is it always instructor-on-trainee, which is where this article takes the issue.  The action taken, in a broader sense, is seen as a reenforcement of the idea that the victims are the problem and thus should be removed from said problem.  Obviously more needs to be done and should be done.

AbacusComputerGroup
AbacusComputerGroup

Having served in the Air Force for over 34 years now, I cannot fathom the misguided belief that placing young men in these positions of authority over teenage girls was ever a "good idea".  You cannot mandate morality any more than you can mandate beautiful weather.  People will continue to be people and will always revert back to their basic instincts.  How many times will a male instructor be approached by a female cadet who says "What can I do NOT to get washed back or kicked out?" before he crumbles?  I fully understand the responsibility they have in the positions they hold but eventually all people will fail at some point if you constantly set them up to fail.  And I'm not inferring the victims are to blame either so don't even go there.  At basic training, at OTS, at every school I attended while on active duty, men and women snuck off to any dark place they could to satisfy those basic insticts.  This activity has happened before, it continues to happen, and it will happen again.  At least putting male instructors in charge of male candidates and female instructors in charge of female candidates is something.  Are people insinuating women are less capable of training other women and that somehow affects mission readiness? 

If you fired every "leader" who had a subordinate behave wrongly we would have no "leaders" left.  Our numbers are being stretched so thin and everyone is required to do so much more, our span of control continually diminishes and you rely more and more on people to "do the right thing."  Unfortunately they just don't.

Anne Martin Fletcher
Anne Martin Fletcher

You cannot mandate morality, but you can mandate behavior. I served under terrific male leadership (and some despicable male leaders), as well as training young males in leadership positions myself. Segregated training means that the men won't trust the women in their future units. Men and women will lead and perform the way they are trained. Their is no value in segregated Air Force units; diversity is a force multiplier.

Former_Airman
Former_Airman

Reminds me of being a trainee in Lackland 10 years ago.  While I'm guessing training instructors went against regulation (not uncommon in civilian colleges as well), it was mostly the horny teens that made up the recruits that went out of their way to meet airmen of the opposite sex.  The laundry room was one of those spots where airmen of both sex could rendezvous.

There was talk that there was something in the food or beverages that helped reduce the sex drives of recruits.  I believe it to be true since masturbation and the like never seemed to happen or even seemed possible during my stay.  That didn't stop the guys from talking about women or getting a few flirts from the opposite sex.

Also, my all-male squadron was commanded by a female training instructor.  So as the article indicates, it was an issue with both genders though as far as I know my instructor was entirely professional.

At Lackland, I'm sure there were much more trainee/trainee encounters rather than trainer/trainee encounters.  Trainers got their kicks from ribbing and riding the recruits, particularly troublesome ones, while instilling discipline.  Trainers aren't allowed to even lay a hand on a recruit unless it is an emergency.  Trainers were under heavy scrutiny.

Bilosopher
Bilosopher

Let's put young, healthy males in a position of authority over young healthy females in very close quarters. What could possibly go wrong?

Eric Palmer
Eric Palmer

The problem is much more simple. Stop having so many non-sense low-order affect administrative duties that have to cross the First Sergeant's desk. A moral issue like this has to be heaped right onto the First Sergeant and thus his Squadron commander. The Squadron commander and First Sergeant work as a team to keep good order and discipline in a unit. My first question to all of this is, what were the First Sergeants of each affected squadron doing? They need to get out more from their desk and visit at the Flight level shops/offices/training grounds. Once one incident like this happens, they need to hammer the offender with everything the UCMJ offers and thus have an excellent object lesson for everyone else. So, from all of this, I can only imagine that the root cause of part of this is that for whatever reason, the First Sergeant was unable or unwilling to do their job; their reason for existence, that is: to kill off discipline problems immediately. 

f_galton
f_galton

Women in the military is a mistake. Segregated training is an entirely rational policy. Sending them into combat is sick.

Jürgen Hubert
Jürgen Hubert

 No more sick than sending _men_ into combat.

AbacusComputerGroup
AbacusComputerGroup

I guess we could send no one?  If only one team showS up at a soccer game, doesn't that automatically make them the winner?  If one country engages in a war and you send no one to deter them, do you somehow automatically win because you took the moral "high-road"?  Or would they just kill the sheep as they sleep?

Jürgen Hubert
Jürgen Hubert

 Sometimes, sending soldiers into a war is a vile necessity. But I don't see how sending male soldiers is any less vile than sending female soldiers.

The_Gull
The_Gull

What has happened to the Air Force anyway? When I was in, any misconduct, sexual or not, was dealt with pretty severely. I remember when the first marijuana cigarette was found in a kid's locker on base. You would have thought it was the end of the world.  Obviously the problem is not in the coed training, it's in the trainers and those controlling them. Like the discipline 40 years ago, if they screw up, get rid of them. If serving in the service, it should be understood that bad behavior of any sort is not acceptable and the AF will send you packing. At least.

Sexual assault on men?? 40%? Again, what has happened to the Air Force? Boy, I'm glad I'm a geezer and lived when I did.

DHMazur
DHMazur

As a former Air Force officer, it especially saddens me to see that the Air Force simply does not learn anything on this issue.  When misconduct comes to light, its first answer is to separate wrongdoers from their victims, not separate wrongdoers from the Air Force.  Almost ten years ago, in response to sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy, senior officials proposed that female cadets be segregated and isolated in barracks assignments--near the female bathrooms--so they would be better positioned to deter assaults. This "solution" to enlisted basic training is more of the same.

Greg Jacob is absolutely correct that this problem is an issue of leadership and accountability.  I cannot believe the Air Force is still relying on geography (keep victims as far as possible from the unprofessional or criminal element in uniform) as a solution to an Air Force chain of command that has failed completely.

Something is wrong.  The Air Force is fooling itself on the quality of the people it chooses to train recruits, and no one is holding officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, accountable for failures of leadership.

A law professor and author of "A More Perfect Military: How the Constitution Can Make Our Military Stronger" (Oxford University Press)

Kevin Brent
Kevin Brent

The mistake was coed training in the first place, you imbecile. 


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