We'll tackle the next 24,850 in the next three and a half weeks!
Basic training is a place where the military breaks down recruits and builds them back up again. It is a place designed to push limits so that the military knows it is gaining troops who can survive in the field of battle. Yes, even in the Air Force, our airman undergo a strict training regimen. They arrive civilians and they leave as seasoned airman ready to take on any task. They are supposed to leave with the knowledge that they have a wingman, that every airman is fighting by their side not only for the big mission but for each other as well.
The current scandal at Lackland Air Force Base gives us at least 31 victims who have left basic training without that knowledge. These airman have learned that those within their chain-of-command, their very instructors, expect behavior that is not only unprofessional, it is down right illegal:
"The basic training environment in particular is a target-rich environment for sexual predators," says Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps officer who says the problem goes beyond one branch of service. Bhagwati says there's no such thing as male instructors having consensual sex with young, female recruits.These are the kinds of cases that have been swept under the rug in the past. In today's Air Force, it might be changing - it seems that under Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta there is an increased desire to uncover every detail. Could it be that Secretary Panetta was changed that much when he saw The Invisible War? Or does he just realize that Congress will be breathing down his neck on this one?
"You cannot do anything without requesting permission from your drill instructor. You cannot use the bathroom, you cannot move from left to right, you are literally in many cases a robot waiting for permission to take a step. And if you have that relationship which is based on fear and intimidation ... if that's the person you're asking help from, it becomes a very bizarre scenario."
Congress Jackie Speier understands that this isn't just about boys being boys:
"There's a cabal of persons at Lackland that are sexual predators... They are people that feel that it's OK to train recruits and then force them to have sex with them."Although the number 31 sounds large, it is a drop in the bucket according to the DoD. They estimate more than 19,000 sexual assaults occur each year but most go unreported. Only 8% ever see court martial. Even fewer cases end in jail time.
The Pentagon is taking steps to change this culture of illegal sexual conduct by creating a Special Victims Unit within each branch of service. While this may help, it still doesn't address a basic fact - the military still an undue burden on victims. It is time for commanders to pick up their load - I have started a petition to have all officers attending schools that lead to command - at the Captain, Major, and Lieutenant Colonel grades - see the award winning film, The Invisible War. The film obviously had an impact on Secretary Panetta; his commanding officers need to see a film that is not biased by military dogma. Then they can truly understand what past and present victims of Military Sexual Trauma face when attempting to report the assaults on their bodies and minds.
This current scandal might spread further. Keesler AFB in Mississippi, as well as Shepard AFB and Goodfellow AFB, both in Texas, are facing further scrutiny into allegations of sexual misconduct by training staff.
Help hold our Commanding Officers responsible for this current tragedy and force them to take the first steps to understanding this issue outside of a military point of view. You too can see The Invisible War. It opens in Denver, Chicago, Scottsdale, and Campbell CA today. It is already playing in Washington DC, New York City, San Francisco, and LA. If it hasn't reached a theater near you, call your closest one and ask when it is arriving!
And please, sign the petition, then share widely via Facebook (Invisible War FB page) and Twitter (@invisible_war #notinvisible).
If you would like to help further, there are a couple of things you can do. Help me spread the word - place the link to the petition on your favorite Facebook pages and twitter to people who you think might share the link themselves. Change your DailyKos tagline to include the link to the petition... check out my tag line if you need any ideas!
Thanks for all you do!