By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force training instructor was sentenced to 45 days in jail after confessing on Monday to engaging in an improper relationship with a trainee in a case that is part of a wider sex scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Jason Manko was reduced in rank from staff sergeant to airman first class and sentenced to 45 days in prison after pleading guilty on Monday.
A military judge, who heard the case without a court martial panel, declined to discharge Manko from the Air Force, allowing him to stay in the service and undergo internal punishment.
"This appears to be another case where the punishment does not fit the crime," said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a group that fights sexual assault in the military. "This supports a perception that sexual offenses are a low priority in the military."
Six trainers at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio have been charged with sexual misconduct in the worst military sex scandal in 16 years. A total of 38 women have come forward to claim they were victims of inappropriate conduct at the hands of their basic training instructors.
Manko was ordered to forfeit $1,500 in pay over three months and sentenced to 30 days hard labor without confinement, in addition to the reduction in rank. He also will be restricted to base for 30 days.
Four other instructors have either pleaded guilty or been convicted by courts martial. They have been sentenced to punishments ranging from 30 days to 20 years in prison.
Brent Boller, a spokesman for the base, said Manko's case was different from the other four trainers, who engaged in improper sexual relationships with newly arrived recruits going through the Air Force's basic training program.
He said the woman in Manko's case had already gone through basic training and was taking advanced military career training at Lackland. Officials didn't say how long she had been in the Air Force.
One more trainer is set to face a court martial on charges related to the sex scandal, which has rocked the military and prompted the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee to agree to hold hearings to investigate the treatment of female recruits in all of the services.
(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Eric Beech)