Fighting Sexual Assault in the Ranks

woodward

By Debbie Gregory.

In the wake of a loud public call to arms to investigate sexual assault claims in the military, the Air Force has named a female two-star general to the head of the office responsible for sexual assault prevention and response.

The office was previously staffed by Lt.Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, whose May arrest for sexual battery spurred heated public debate over the military’s willingness to take the matter seriously. The move to place a two-star general in his position brings a higher profile and more attention to the matter.

Air Force officials have appointed Maj.Gen. Margaret H. Woodward to run the reorganized office. She will report to the vice chief of the Air Force. The move won praise from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., who called Woodward a “breath of fresh air.”

Woodward began her Air Force career in 1983 after earning an aerospace engineering degree from Arizona State University. She has also earned master’s degrees in both aviation science and national security strategy. A command pilot with more than 3,800 flight hours, Woodward flew aerial refueling aircraft and commanded air operations in numerous U.S. military operations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. As commander of 17th Air Force, based in Germany, she commanded the U.S. portion of the allied air campaign over Libya in 2011.

Her new duties are not Woodward’s first in handling sex abuse claims. She recently oversaw an investigation of the sexual abuse scandal at the Air Force’s training headquarters at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Officials said Woodward and her office would be given additional assets, including a larger staff, to tackle what is believed to be a military-wide problem.

The Pentagon estimated in a recent report that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel.

The House of Representatives approved a defense policy bill this month that takes away the power of military commanders to overturn convictions in rape and assault cases. The legislation would also require anyone in uniform found guilty of a sex-related crime receive a punishment that includes, at minimum, a dismissal from military service or a dishonorable discharge. The bill also requires the Department of Defense to train at least one sexual assault nurse for each Army brigade and for equivalent-sized units in the other branches. The bill was passed by a vote of 315 to 108.