Just over two years ago, Air Force Major General Margaret Woodward was leading the U.S. air war against Libya that ultimately toppled Muammar Gaddafi — and has been hailed as one of the Obama Administration’s foreign-policy triumphs.
Now she’s fighting a more formidable foe: sexual assault in her own Air Force.
It’s a tough fight. After all, it was only a month ago that Jeffrey Krusinski, Woodward’s predecessor, was arrested for allegedly sexually assault a woman while drunk not far from the Pentagon.
Appointing a wartime commander to the post suggests how seriously the service is taking the rising scourge of sexual assault in its ranks. Not only that: Krusinski is a lieutenant colonel, while Woodward, a major general, is four links higher on the chain of command.
The Air Force and the other services are under increasing pressure to curb sexual assaults. The number of what the Pentagon calls “unwanted sexual contacts” in the military jumped from an estimated 19,300 in 2010 to 26,000 last year, a 35% hike. Lawmakers – especially female senators – are pushing to replace senior officers in the accused’s chain of command with military lawyers to investigate such charges, in hopes they’ll be prosecuted more rigorously.
Since last September, Woodward has been in charge of the Air Force’s safety efforts. “I am giving up safety — this will fully consume my time,” she tells Battleland. “While I regret leaving safety, I am proud that the Air Force leadership made this decision to fully resource the SAPR [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response] Office and align it under the VCSAF [Vice Chief of Staff General Larry Spencer, the service’s No. 2 officer] Office for support/emphasis.”
Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel John Dorrian estimates Woodward’s staff will triple — to more than 30 people, including lawyers and analysts — to help fight the persistent problem. Woodward has experience with such matters, he noted: last year, she investigated the sexual-assault scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, involving some 30 uniformed trainers sexually preying on more than 60 recruits, that led to the ouster of several commanders.
“With this new 2 star aboard, the AF means business, which has been long overdue,” one reader posted on the independent Stars and Stripes newspaper’s website.
Woodward, a KC-135 refueling tanker pilot by training, says she’s ready for her next mission. “From my many conversations with leadership, I am fully confident that they totally committed to getting this right,” she says. “And, most importantly, for the right reason: to protect and care for our airmen.”