Chief Master Sgt. Justin Deisch, a former command chief at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, was recently fired after an investigation found he sexually harassed a female airman at a major Air Force conference in September.
The inquiry substantiated three of the four allegations levied against Deisch for his behavior on Sept. 22-23, 2021, at the Air Force Association’s annual fall conference at National Harbor, Maryland. Those include sexual harassment of an airman, dereliction of his duties as a senior noncommissioned officer and simple assault.
Those findings, obtained by Air Force Times via a Freedom of Information Act request, sheds new light on the 28th Bomb Wing’s previously reported decision to fire its top enlisted leader last November.
Deisch saw the unnamed, married woman on Sept. 22, 2021, while she was with a group at a bar. He tried complimenting her by saying “she had gorgeous eyes and that he couldn’t stop staring,” according to the report. She found the comments inappropriate.
He soon cornered the woman when she was separated from her group and grabbed her arm while he continued to compliment her.
“Sorry, I’m drunk and being really forward,” he said, according to the report.
Deisch immediately made her uncomfortable.
“Her discomfort grew during the conversation until she was terrified of the position she was in,” the report said. “She froze and was unable to assert her way out of the situation until he physically moved.”
She found a bruise on her hand the following day, which may have come from being pressed against a table, investigators said. The Air Force also concluded his hugging constituted assault.
He later testified that he was trying to make the woman feel better about her looks and to downplay comments about her deployed husband. He may have touched her shoulder and hugged her from the side during the conversation, he said, but did not perceive that she was uncomfortable.
“He also … confirmed the late-night group that traveled to [redacted] hotel for a bottle of wine and returned [to] the lobby bar, including passing a note to [redacted] with his phone and room number on it, but not with intent toward flirting or romance.”
Witnesses confirmed to investigators that Deisch had singled out the woman and was overly flirtatious, even after he learned she was married.
The chief master sergeant brazenly touched at least one other person, too. An unnamed man who was also included in the report said that Deisch touched his neck and shoulders when they first met, and that the enlisted leader smacked an unnamed person on the butt.
“While [the person] did not feel intruded upon, he did think it was very forward and bold of CMSgt Deisch to think he could place his hands on someone or smack them within 30 seconds of meeting them,” the report said. “It was an indication of a lack of barriers.”
Later that night, Deisch tried to follow the woman back to her hotel room without her consent. Someone else had to distract him so the woman could leave.
The woman “continuously broke down as she was reliving the scene” while talking to others that night and the next day, according to the report. “In the days after, she was crying for hours on end and having nightmares.”
Though Deisch testified that he drank one 12-ounce beer per hour from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., plus some wine, the Air Force couldn’t say for sure whether drunkenness accounted for his actions. He was loud but not slurring or stumbling, witnesses said during the investigation.
An allegation of drunk and disorderly conduct was not substantiated in the report.
Wing commander Col. Joseph Sheffield called for the inquiry Oct. 1, 2021, about a week after the conference ended. As the top enlisted airman at the wing, Deisch advised Sheffield on the professional and personal well-being of more than 3,000 enlisted airmen at Ellsworth.
The base is one of two installations that hosts the B-1B Lancer bomber fleet. The 28th Bomb Wing is the Air Force’s largest B-1 combat wing, with 27 Lancers and 3,700 uniformed and civilian employees.
Deisch arrived at Ellsworth in June 2021, according to a previously posted official biography that has been removed from the base’s website. The wing did not say what job he now holds.
He has held multiple leadership positions in munitions maintenance, nuclear missile testing and other units since joining the service in 1995, and is certified as a sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate, a bystander intervention training instructor and a “Green Dot” intervention facilitator.
“All airmen should be treated with dignity and respect, and senior leaders should set the example for subordinates by exercising sound judgement and decision-making both on and off duty,” Sheffield said in November.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.