House chairman visits AF base reeling from scandal
WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said the Air Force is diligently investigating a widening sex scandal at Lackland Air Force Base after he made a personal visit to the Texas installation on Sunday.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon spent three hours at the base, where he met with Gen. Edward Rice Jr., military officers, enlisted members and recruits. The base and the Air Force have been rocked by allegations that dozens of female recruits were sexually assaulted or harassed by their male instructors.
"Hundreds of investigators are following all kinds of leads," McKeon said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. In some cases, the investigators are going back two or three times, he said.
The California Republican, who made the stop in Texas on his way to Washington for Congress' return this week, said he received assurances from top military officers that they will do all they can to ensure the incidents don't occur again.
Military prosecutors have investigated more than a dozen instructors at Lackland and charged six with crimes ranging from rape to adultery. The most serious allegations involved an instructor sentenced to 20 years in prison in July after being convicted of raping one female recruit and sexually assaulting several others.
Lackland is where every new American airmen reports for eight weeks of basic training. About 35,000 graduate each year.
About one in five recruits are female, while most of the nearly 500 instructors are male.
McKeon's visit comes as the allegations at Lackland have prompted victims of sexual assault in the military to push for congressional investigations and hearings.
McKeon had an opportunity to meet with some 30 recruits, about half of them female, with few military officers in attendance. He described it as a unique situation.
"You can read about in the paper, watch it on TV or hold hearings, but you can't get 30 recruits to Washington," he said.
Last month, the military ousted the top commander over the basic training unit at Lackland. In addition, Texas Sen. John Cornyn held up the nomination of the White House pick for Air Force chief of staff while pressing for answers about the scandal. Cornyn finally ended his hold on the nomination of Gen. Mark Welsh after meeting with him to discuss the scandal.