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Master sgt.: 'I've lost faith in the Air Force system'

Oct. 7, 2013 - 09:08AM   |  
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Master Sgt. Janet Dudley said she fought to stay in the Air Force after she was raped by a coworker at RAF Lakenheath, England in 1995.

Master Sgt. Janet Dudley said she fought to stay in the Air Force after she was raped by a coworker at RAF Lakenheath, England in 1995.

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Master Sgt. Janet Dudley said she fought to stay in the Air Force after she was raped by a coworker at RAF Lakenheath, England in 1995.

Her commander wanted to discharge her early. Dudley, then a security forces member, was determined to finish out her four-year commitment and leave on her own terms.

For weeks after the attack, she was confined to her dorm room. Her weapon was revoked twice. Back at work, colleagues wouldn’t talk to her, she said, and refused to relieve her for bathroom breaks when she worked 12-hour shifts.

“I didn’t think I would be able to recover from that,” Dudley said. “But I did.”

Now, after a 19-year career punctuated by outstanding performance reviews, service medals and promotions, Dudley is again facing a premature end to her military service.

Since December, she has gone from standout inspections superintendent of the 37th Training Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland to the subject of a criminal investigation, accused of falsifying her own medical documents. She was fired from her job and reduced in rank.

In a seven-page Inspector General complaint obtained by Air Force Times, Dudley says her career began to suffer when she confrontedan enlisted supervisor for making “sexual in nature” comments toward her.

Dudley’s complaint also alleges a basic training squadron commander retaliated against her after she cited his squadron for having improperly trained MTIs. Two months later, the officer relieved her of duty. In April, he also found her guilty of falsifying an official document.

The complaint calls the action “a direct conflict of interest and reprisal.”

The Air Education and Training Command inspector general is investigating Dudley’s complaints, which could take at least six months. Meanwhile, Second Air Force head Maj. Gen. Leonard Patrick has ordered a command-directed investigation into Dudley’s allegations, said Lt. Col. Sean McKenna, director of AETC public affairs.

Preliminary findings based on interviews with five key witnesses named in Dudley’s complaint do not substantiate the harassment allegations, McKenna said. Messages left with two of those witnesses by Air Force Times were not returned.

The IG and command-directed investigations will run separately but concurrently.

“We don’t want to leave any stone unturned. This is a serious matter, and we want to treat it every bit as such,” McKenna said. “They’ll go as far and as deep as they need to be confident the matter has been resolved.”

Air Force Times is not publishing the names of the accused at this stage of the investigation. The senior NCO and officer declined through McKenna to be interviewed for this story.

Dudley said she is once again being treated like an outcast.

High-tenure rules will force her out of the Air Force when she reaches 20 years of service next November.

The experience “has mentally depleted me. It’s like being attacked all over again,” Dudley said.

Attacked in first assignment

Dudley joined the Air Force at 18. She wasn’t ready for college, and the military seemed like a good alternative.

“I got to my first base [in England.] I thought it was the greatest thing in the whole world,” she said.

Then one night she went out for drinks with colleagues. Back in her dorm room afterward, three of the airmen physically and sexually assaulted her, she said.

Dudley’s primary attacker was convicted at court-martial and kicked out of the Air Force. She said the two other assailants cut deals to testify against him. Two years after arriving at Lakenheath, Dudley was assigned to McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

She was struck by how kindly people treated her. A few months in, though, OSI agents showed up unannounced to return Dudley’s clothes from the night of the rape. She said the agents told her chief and her commander about the attack.

“I lost it. I freaked out. They’re not supposed to go tell people, but they did,” she said.

Dudleyremembers what the chief master sergeant told her: “I don’t know who you were stationed with before, but there’s nobody like that here.”

Her commander stepped in. “He told [the OSI agents] he had a problem with the way they handled that. Because of how great [the leaders] were, I decided I could stay in.”

She recounts the rape and the aftermath in her IG complaint.

“I have looked at this previous incident as something that has made me stronger, something that has made me want to right the wrongs occurring in our Air Force,” Dudley writes. “I have spent my entire military career trying to help others and trying to improve our system.”

The complaint is “one of the hardest things I have ever had to do because I know the pain this will bring to my family. But as a senior noncommissioned officer, I can’t allow this to happen to other airmen.”

Complaint's circuitous route

Dudley sent the complaint to the Defense Department Inspector General, electing to go outside her chain-of-command, because “I have lost faith in the Air Force system and its accountability.”

Dudley writes she also has no trust in her wing inspector general, to whom she had reported directly until she was fired in February. The DoD Inspector General referred the claim to the Air Force IG for investigation anyway.

Nilgun Tolek, director of whistle blower reprisal investigations for the Defense Department IG, said referrals to service inspector generals are not uncommon.

“The service IG either investigates or further refers it to a lower level IG,” Tolek said.

That’s what happened with Dudley’s complaint, which is now being reviewed by the AETC inspector general — one level removed from the wing IG for which she had worked. The interviews for the investigation weren’t conducted until August, six months after Dudley filed her IG complaint.

Tolek said reprisal complaints are never sent to the chain of command in which the allegation occurred. The IG that handles the complaint will write a report of investigation, which then must be reviewed by Tolek’s team.

“It doesn’t become a final report until we approve it,” Tolek said. “There is no rubber-stamping.”

In the complaint, Dudley accuses the senior NCO of multiple incidents of sexual harassment, beginning with a wing holiday party in December 2011. It happened twice more, she alleges, before she said she confronted him in March 2012.

“He began to point out small errors I made at work,” the complaint says. Dudley alleges he began requiring her to meet with him in his office and would berate her.

In December, she inspected a training squadron and informed its commander that new, temporary-duty basic training instructors were not fully qualified to teach trainees, according to the complaint. “He was extremely upset with me and told me he did not believe I should be inspecting this program.”

The same month, she was accused of falsifying a medical clearance request for a special duty assignment she had applied for in August 2012, which showed she medically qualified for the new job. In October, she said she was informed she was disqualified because the form was not filed correctly.

The Air Force accuses her of creating the document. Dudley maintains she did not and that there is no evidence to the contrary. Nor did she have a reason to lie, she said. The medical records system at the 37th Medical Group was a mess at the time and was in the process of being changed, Dudley said.

She never imagined she’d be held responsible. But that’s what happened in December. Dudley said she informed her leadership about the investigation, which was unrelated to her role as inspections superintendent. Two months passed. In February, the squadron commander removed Dudley from her job — a move her complaint describes as unprecedented.

“Why was I allowed to stay in my duties for an additional two months?” Dudley writes. Then she filed the IG complaint.

In April, she was given a choice of nonjudicial punishment or court-martial proceedings for the charge of falsifying an official document. Dudley believed she could make her case through nonjudicial punishment proceedings.

In June, she learned the squadron commander had found her guilty, reduced her to technical sergeant and issued her a reprimand. Dudley appealed the decision to Patrick, the Second Air Force commander, who upheld the findings.

Facing high-year tenure

Dudley now works in the history office, an assignment she enjoy thanks in part to a supportive supervisor.

She still loves the Air Force. “If you embrace the core values — service before self, excellence in all we do, integrity first — it works.

“Sometimes, you give up on the system. You try to use the system correctly. You want to believe that if you work hard and do the right thing, that good things happen, and the right thing will happen. But all I can see lately is I did the right thing, I did what I was supposed to do, and it’s not good.”

She decided to apply for early retirement and leave the Air Force. Dudley said she submitted her request July 31. Her commander told her Aug. 18 — one day before deadline — that he couldn’t approve it because she was under investigation.

On Aug. 21, her area defense counsel confirmed Dudley was not under investigation, she said. By then, the deadline had passed.

Unless early retirement is offered again, Dudley will remain in the Air Force until November 2014. She isn’t sure what she wants to do next, but she plans to continue her schooling.

That’s not possible right now, either. Dudley lost her tuition assistance Oct. 1 because of her disciplinary record.■

Next: ‘The doctors try to turn it around like you’re crazy’

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