SUMTER — Eight high-ranking officers at Shaw Air Force Base have been reprimanded by the military after a six-month investigation into sexual misconduct complaints from a female airman protesting misogynistic work conditions both at the base and throughout the military branch.
Two colonels, four lieutenant colonels and a captain received either letters of counseling or more severe letters of admonishment. Two of the lieutenant colonels were reassigned to staff positions. A fifth lieutenant colonel, cited in allegations, since has retired from active duty.
Substantiated allegations against the officers include tolerating sexual harassment, failing to prevent sexual harassment, condoning display of sexually offensive materials and allowing the consumption of alcohol during post-flight debriefings.
While the identity of the officers and the complainant were redacted from Air Force reports, it is thought the developments stem from the complaints of former Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith.
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Maj. David Faggard, director of public affairs for the 9th Air Force at Shaw, said that because of privacy issues, the Air Force would not be able to release the names of those involved. However, in a statement announcing the results of the investigation, Faggard describes the complainant as a 17-year veteran of the Air Force who filed her complaint in October 2012.
During that same month, Smith, a 17-year veteran assigned to Shaw, filed her formal complaint with the Air Force before publicly speaking with multiple national media outlets about her accusations.
It is widely thought that Smith's public whistle-blowing led to the “Health and Welfare Inspection” in December 2012, ordered by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, at all Air Force bases worldwide. During that inspection, bases were to have any inappropriate posters, pictures and materials removed from the workplace.
In her complaint, Smith accused the Air Force of maintaining an atmosphere that made her and all other female airmen “persistently subjected to a hostile environment in which women are denigrated and mocked.”
In her complaint, Smith cited various incidents spanning her entire career, including her time with the 55th Fighter Squadron. The incidents included finding pornographic materials in print and electronic media in the workplace at Shaw, and several violent sexual assaults, including one while on deployment with the squadron in Iraq in 2010.
Smith said she was assured on several occasions by multiple ranking officers that the offensive materials would be removed from the workplace but nothing reportedly was done.
“The Air Force's environment is so exceedingly hostile to women that many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result,” Smith's complaint reads.
After interviews with 200 witnesses and thousands of written pages reviewed, the Air Force said it was able to substantiate 14 allegations, resulting in letters being placed high-ranking officers' permanent records.
“This can significantly hinder an individual's opportunities for promotion or advancement,” Faggard said. “Although it might look like it's a minor thing, written administrative actions, like UIFs (Unfavorable Information Files), they have long-term effects on an officer's career progression.”
Faggard also stressed the Air Force take the allegations seriously.
“In light of the allegations, Air Force leaders at all levels took decisive steps to reinforce standards and sustain an environment of trust, respect and professionalism,” he said.