Gen. Larry Spencer (Michael Pausic / Air Force)
While at Andrews Air Force Base a couple of weeks ago to recognize some of the airmen from the 11th Logistics Readiness Squadron for their contribution to the “Airmen Powered by Innovation” campaign, I took the opportunity to speak to the squadron about sexual assault.
These airmen represent the thousands we have serving throughout our Air Force, and every one of them deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The crime of sexual assault hurts people. It hurts our airmen, erodes trust, affects readiness and keeps them from doing their best.
Sexual assault inflicts such pain on its victims that many are scarred for life. As I looked into the eyes of those airmen, it pained me to think some of them may have been violated by this despicable crime.
Last fiscal year, the Air Force had 790 reported cases of sexual assault. This fiscal year, we have 513 so far. Experts in this field say sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in America.
To be clear, sexual assault is intentional sexual contact, characterized by the use of force, threats, intimidation or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent. The term sexual assault includes a broad category of sexual offenses consisting of the following specific UCMJ offenses: rape, sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, forcible sodomy and attempts to commit these acts. In layman’s terms, sexual assault runs the gamut from inappropriate sexual contact to rape.
For me, the number of reported cases is unacceptable. However, when you consider there are more cases that were not reported, I am personally appalled beyond description.
I believe the solution rests with our airmen — you and I; military and civilian; active, Guard and Reserve. It has to.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh has said, “Every Air Force supervisor and every Air Force commander must be actively engaged in this [preventing sexual assault] effort. If they don’t get actively engaged, I consider them part of the problem.”
We know that alcohol plays a significant role in this crime so we must be particularly vigilant when drinking is involved. Alcohol impairs judgment, and drinking excessive amounts can result in making bad decisions and losing control. It also can incapacitate individuals, making them vulnerable to a predator’s attack.
Please take care of one another. I can’t stress that enough. We have each other’s back — actively guarding against and even stopping those who would commit a crime, and protecting those who could fall victim to a crime. As Gen. Welsh has said, we know what “right” looks like.
We will attack this cancer on every front. We must do everything within our power to prevent sexual assaults from occurring and if they do happen, we must take care of the victims and hold perpetrators appropriately accountable.
The strength of our Air Force lies in our people. And if we are not performing to the best of our ability, then our mission to fly, fight and win is jeopardized. The American people place great trust and confidence in our military. We cannot and will not betray that trust.
We are airmen 24/7. When we volunteered to join the Air Force, we subscribed to the core values of integrity, service and excellence. The thread of dignity and respect runs through each one of these. Live them!