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Air Force Says Dozens of Recruits Were Victims of Sexual Assault

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Marleah Miller(WASHINGTON) -- An ongoing Air Force investigation has identified at least 31 female recruits who were allegedly victims of sexual misconduct, including rape by a dozen male drill instructors, since 2009 at the service's largest boot camp training facility at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Six of the instructors face criminal charges including rape, aggravated sexual assault, adultery, and engaging in improper sexual relationships with female trainees.  One of those trainers is charged with having had improper conduct with 10 female recruits. Another who pleaded guilty to a charge of an improper relationship later admitted to prosecutors that he had been involved with 10 female recruits.

The Air Force said there are ongoing investigations of alleged sexual misconduct by six other military training instructors at the base.  Lackland employs about 500 military instructors at the base.  More than 35,000 of the Air Force's incoming airmen go through their initial training there -- 22 percent of them are women.

Lt. Gen. Edward Rice Jr., commander of Air Education and Training Command, told Pentagon reporters on Thursday that nine of the instructors were from the same squadron, the 331st Training Squadron, at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.  The squadron's commander was relieved of command earlier this month for what Rice called "an unacceptable level of misconduct" within the unit.

The Air Force first became aware of the incidents last summer when a female recruit stepped forward with allegations that she had been assaulted.  Later in the fall, three drill instructors made additional allegations of further misconduct by their peers within the 331st Training Squadron.

"We are leaving no stone unturned," Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., the Air Force's commander of training and education, said Thursday.  "I am being as aggressive as I can."

To that end, Rice said that the Air Force is casting a wide net and is sending surveys to all of the airmen who've gone through training at Lackland over the past one or two years.  That means 35,000 to 70,000 airmen will be receiving surveys asking if they were aware of incidents of sexual misconduct that may have occurred at the base while they were trainees.

Earlier this week, the Air Force announced that a major general had been tasked with determining if there were systemic issues at other training centers that could indicate a pattern of sexual misconduct.

Rice said that most of the misconduct occurred during basic training at Lackland, although there were some instances where instructors had engaged in improper sexual relations with recruits after they had moved on to other technical training programs at the base.

He said indications are that the sexual misconduct may have been limited to only the 331st training squadron and not the other eight training squadrons at the base.

"In my assessment to this point, it is not an issue of an endemic problem throughout basic military training," Rice said.  "It is more localized, and we are doing a very intensive investigation on that squadron to find out what exactly happened and why."

Rice said he would await the results of the ongoing reviews before determining what corrective measures should be instituted, including potentially the hiring of more female drill instructors or having only female instructors handle female recruits.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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