By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force said on Wednesday that one quarter of its basic training instructors will be women following widespread sexual harassment and abuse of female recruits at a Texas base.
The change comes after months of disclosures of sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force base in Texas.
In a report, Major General Margaret Woodward, Air Force Director of Safety Programs, described a flawed basic training structure that led to "the opportunity for abuse of power."
The report was released at the same time as the U.S. military finds itself caught up in a sex scandal involving David Petraeus, a retired four-star Army general.
Petraeus stepped down as CIA chief on Friday following revelations that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, a reserve officer in military intelligence.
The report makes 46 recommendations including one, which the Air Force says it will apply, that would require one in four basic training instructors to be a woman.
Currently one instructor, usually a staff sergeant, oversees a training unit of some 22 recruits, men and women. Now there would be four instructors overseeing two units, with at least one of those being a woman.
"This will require a female target of 25 percent of total (training instructors)," the report says.
About 22 percent of the Air Force is female, but many of those women are in specialized technical positions.
INTEGRATED TRAINING TO STAY
Eleven instructors at Lackland have been charged with offenses ranging from inappropriate behavior to sexual assault. Five have been convicted or pleaded guilty at courts-martial and have been sentenced to terms ranging from 30 days to 20 years in prison. The others are in various stages of the military legal process.
The Air Force has said 48 women have come forward with what investigators consider credible stories of sexual misconduct.
The move to increase female instructors could be controversial because some women's rights advocates had pushed the military to address the scandal by segregating men and women in basic training.
"The team concluded that integrated training remains the best option for the Air Force," said General Edward Rice, commander of Air Force Basic Training. "I support this finding, which is consistent with the principle of training the way we fight together as Airmen."
The report also recommends shortening the length of basic training by a week to 7-1/2 weeks to reduce the opportunity for improper relationships to grow.
The Air Force said the length of basic training is under review but a decision on that will come later.
Other recommendations include shortening the length of time a trainer can remain in that post to three years, establishing a "female mentor" position in basic training, eliminating closed-door counseling and prohibiting training instructors from handling the cell phones of trainees.
"Sexual attraction, power, and money are three of the most corruptive elements of the human condition, and two of these are present in the (training) environment," Rice said. "If we do not take steps to address these corruptive elements persistently and positively, we will find ourselves in the same situation at some point down the road."
(Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)