Morale: Recruits Continue To Get Screwed


August 17, 2012: The U.S. Air Force recently fired the commander of their only basic training unit (at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas). Several other senior officers at Lackland also lost their jobs. This is because of a recent investigation that accused 15 instructors of sexual misconduct with 38 female trainees. Each year at Lackland a force of 500 instructors trains 35,000 recruits. Eleven percent of the trainers and 22 percent of the recruits are women.

This sort of abuse has been going on for centuries. There are surviving letters from young recruits in the Roman Army complaining of the excesses (sometimes crippling or fatal) of the centurions who were their instructors. Fast forward two thousand years and you have the American military where, each year, between one and three percent of instructors are prosecuted for various forms of abuse (including sexual) against their trainees.

Attempts to curb this bad behavior often result in training being made ineffective. This is what happened to the U.S. Army training in the 1990s, and that problem was not rectified until after 2003. Air Force training was never as strenuous as the army or marine version, but even that was changed in light of the number of support troops (from all services) coming under fire in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One problem with misbehaving instructors is that training new recruits is not popular duty. Screening often does not do the job if you have not got a lot of prospective instructors to begin with.

The most recent abuse outbreak was, as usual, the result of senior commanders not staying in touch with what was going on. It's no secret that the instructor job is unpopular and often attracts questionable volunteers. The senior commanders are supposed to select senior NCOs who will, in turn, rely on a large network of lower ranking NCOs to discreetly report any unsavory behavior. For this to work the senior officers have to make sure the network is up and running. Too often senior commanders don't bother, believing that "if it ain't broke don't fix it." Often things get broke because misbehaving NCOs are not noticed and disciplined (or prosecuted) early on.

The air force is also well aware that female personnel require special handling by male supervisors. Air force NCO schools teach its students that female personnel are going to behave differently, especially towards a male supervisor, than male subordinates will. While many male NCOs may have already noticed this, the NCO school includes reminders in its curriculum just to be on the safe side.


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