By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force basic training instructor was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Thursday and had his rank reduced after being convicted of improper sexual misconduct at a court martial, one of seven cases in the worst military sex scandal since 1996.
Technical Sergeant Christopher Smith, 33, could have faced a year in prison and being kicked out of the Air Force with a bad conduct discharge. He was reduced to the rank of Airman First Class.
He was found guilty late Wednesday of having unprofessional relationships with two female basic trainees.
Seven trainers at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio have been charged with sexual misconduct. The latest, Staff Sergeant Jason Manko, was charged on Thursday, Air Force officials said.
Smith's conviction comes less than two weeks after another trainer was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for the rape or sexual assault of 10 female recruits.
A third trainer earlier pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct.
Smith can remain in the military after he finishes his sentence, though not as a military training instructor.
A total of 38 women have come forward to claim they were victims of inappropriate conduct at the hands of their basic training instructors.
In a mixed verdict, a jury found Smith guilty of seeking to develop an intimate relationship with a teenage trainee, but cleared him of charges of making sexual advances. Smith was found guilty of having a personal social relationship with a second female trainee.
Smith was convicted by a "special" court martial, a streamlined process allowed in cases where the maximum penalty is no more than a year in prison.
U.S. Senator John Cornyn, who had blocked the nomination of the proposed Air Force chief of staff over concerns about the sex scandal, said on Thursday he has lifted his hold on the appointment of General Mark Welsh.
The Texas Republican said he asked Welsh to conduct a formal review of current Air Force policy and training on sexual assault prevention and inappropriate relationships.
U.S. Representative Jackie Speier has called for hearings in the House, saying the problem of women in the military being sexually harassed and raped by men in command positions is far more widespread than officials have been willing to believe.
Pressure is mounting from the public as well.
Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, the former Navy helicopter pilot who exposed the 1991 Tailhook scandal involving allegations of sexual abuse by military pilots, on Thursday presented petitions signed by more than 10,000 people to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, demanding public hearings into the Lackland case.
Not since 1996 at an Army base in Maryland, has the U.S. military been confronted with a sex scandal of similar scope.
(Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)