Air Force to oust 4 in light of rapes

Women officers to fill two of top posts

academy has had 56 cases since '93

March 26, 2003|By Richard A. Serrano | Richard A. Serrano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WASHINGTON - Four high-ranking officers will be replaced as part of a major restructuring at the U.S. Air Force Academy, which has been reeling in recent weeks from allegations of sexual assault and harassment, officials said yesterday.

The announcement of the sweeping changes, along with new "directives" to safeguard female cadets and toughen accountability procedures, is to be made at the Pentagon today by Air Force Secretary James G. Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper.

While they refused to discuss the changes publicly yesterday, Air Force leaders did brief key members of Congress, outlining their plans for rescuing the academy's reputation. Officials recently disclosed 56 reports of alleged sexual assault or harassment at the Colorado Springs, Colo., school over the last decade.

"It's pretty obvious we're going to be announcing some new leadership," said one Pentagon official close to the decision to replace the four officers.

According to congressional and Air Force officials, the officers who are being replaced are: Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, who serves as the No. 2 academy leader and as commandant of cadets; Col. Steve Eddy, vice superintendent; Col. Bob Eskridge, vice commander; and Col. Sue Slavec, training group commander.

The school superintendent, Lt. Gen. John R. Dallager, is likely to remain until his scheduled retirement in June, officials said.

It was unclear yesterday who would replace those leaving. But a Senate aide said after the Capitol Hill briefing that two of the positions are to go to females.

The four current leaders will be reassigned to new positions in the Air Force, the aide said.

Although many have called for the removal of the current leadership - particularly because of the poor response to sexual abuse allegations - some critics said far more needs to be done.

Kate Summers, advocacy director for a program that has counseled thousands of military members who said they were victims of sexual assault, said total accountability for offenders and supervisors is crucial.

"I think the problem is much more systemic than just the removal of leadership or separating the men and women cadets into separate dorms," said Summers of the Miles Foundation in Newtown, Conn.

The Air Force's latest decision comes after officials, while acknowledging that they would not tolerate any sexual misconduct, first expressed confidence in the current school leadership.

Earlier this month, Jumper apologized to the female cadets who said they were raped or sexually assaulted over the last decade, adding that "we will assure them that they can be proud of this institution."

But even with today's pending announcement, many critics in Washington and elsewhere still are demanding significant improvements.

"No, I'm not satisfied," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat from New York, said after the Hill briefing. "Changing the leadership is a serious action, but it is not sufficient."

Richard A. Serrano is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper

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