By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The commander of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas was relieved of duty on Friday in connection with allegations that instructors at the base had sexually assaulted and harassed female recruits.
Colonel Glenn Palmer, who has commanded Air Force basic training for a little over a year, will be removed from that position effective immediately and reassigned, said Colleen McGee, chief of public affairs for the 37th Training Wing at Lackland.
Palmer, who is not accused of sexual misconduct, oversaw military instructors at Lackland in San Antonio, where all Air Force basic training takes place. He is the second high-ranking officer to be pushed out because of the scandal.
"It was felt new leadership was needed," McGee told Reuters.
Palmer was in charge of all nine squadrons of instructors, who lead 8-1/2 week programs for some 35,000 trainees a year.
A replacement had not been announced as of midday Friday.
Two instructors have been convicted by courts martial of criminal charges relating to the sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape of female Air Force trainees at Lackland.
A third instructor has pleaded guilty.
A total of seven instructors have been charged, and another eight remain under investigation.
Thirty-eight women have come forward to report they were victims of inappropriate advances ranging from flirting to sexual assault by instructors during or immediately after basic training.
The Air Force also said on Friday that Eric Axelbank, the overall wing commander at Lackland who supervises basic training as well as technical, medical and language training, will take a new assignment early next month.
General Edward Rice, Commander of the Air Education and Training Command, said Axelbank's transfer is a scheduled promotion and is not due to the ongoing scandal.
"Colonel Axelbank has done an admirable job in a challenging situation," Rice said. It was Axelbank's decision to relieve Palmer of command, McGee said.
A lieutenant colonel who commanded one of the squadrons under Palmer was replaced last month after Axelbank said he had lost confidence in his ability to lead.
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Todd Eastham)