End to messy case Kelly Flinn: General discharge for Air Force lieutenant is wise resolution.

May 24, 1997

IN THE latest military sex scandal, Lt. Kelly Flinn, an Air Force Academy graduate and the country's first female B-52 pilot, faced a court martial for adultery for an affair with a married

civilian, lying about the affair by denying it to an investigator, fraternizing with an enlisted man in another brief affair and disobeying a direct order. If convicted, she could have faced up to nine years in prison.

To everyone's relief, Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Widnall ended the stand-off between Ms. Flinn and the Air Force by granting her a general discharge Thursday.

Public opinion has been on Ms. Flinn's side, especially since she waged a vigorous public relations campaign to defend herself. She also succeeded in enlisting some important allies in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.

But the public heard only Ms. Flinn's side of the story, in which it appeared that the rigid application of a military rule forbidding adultery was being harshly and inequitably applied. In fact, the Air Force did a poor job of explaining its rules and the reasons for taking legal action against Ms. Flinn.

When the military accuses an officer of adultery, there are usually other charges involved. Most of these cases are handled administratively, not in an adversarial court martial. Many critics wonder why the Air Force allowed this affair to become such a cause celebre.

Good question. But Ms. Flinn's willingness to play the public relations game and to trumpet her status as a trailblazer in order to get lenient treatment suggests that she played her part in letting this matter escalate.

If Ms. Flinn had been railroaded because of her sex, members of Congress would have ample reason to criticize. But the evidence suggests that she violated rules for which other officers are harshly punished.

The honorable discharge that she had demanded would have come at great expense to other women in the military. Such leniency would have spawned resentment in the ranks against every female officer who follows the trail she has blazed.

Pub Date: 5/24/97

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