A Texas senator is blocking approval of President Barack Obama’s nominee for Air Force chief of staff, saying the Pentagon has been slow to respond to sexual assault allegations at Lackland Air Force Base.
The nomination of General Mark Welsh to succeed General Norton Schwartz was approved yesterday by the Senate Armed Services Committee for a vote by the full Senate. Republican Sen. John Cornyn placed a legislative hold on Welsh, invoking a prerogative available to any senator.
“My hold will remain until I feel the Air Force is adequately addressing the unacceptable situation at Lackland and taking corrective steps to reform their training program to prevent this from happening again,” Cornyn said in an e-mailed statement. Welsh is currently commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
The Air Force has been investigating 12 military instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for alleged sexual misconduct involving at least 31 trainees.
The scandal widened this week when an additional three instructors came under investigation and the number of alleged victims was raised to at least 38.
Six of the instructors have been charged with crimes, from sexual advances to rape. The others are being investigated for allegations of improper sexual contact, non-physical contact through social media and, in at least two cases, some form of sexual assault.
One instructor, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on July 21 for crimes including rape, adultery, obstruction of justice and aggravated sexual assault.
Lackland, one of the military’s busiest training centers, provides basic training to all Air Force recruits. About 500 instructors train 35,000 cadets annually.
When asked what Cornyn wanted to see before lifting the hold, spokesman Drew Brandewie said “he hopes the Air Force will be more forthcoming in their efforts.”
Welsh’s spokesman, Lt. Col. John Sheets, said the nomination “is working through the confirmation process and and he will continue to focus on leading U.S. Air Forces in Europe until that process is finished.”
Separately, Cornyn continues to block confirmation of the nominee to become the Army’s top weapons buyer until the Defense Department pledges to take action against a Russian company supplying arms to Syria’s Assad regime.
Welsh was asked about the Lackland case and the problem of sexual assaults in the military at his nomination hearing July 19.
“We’ve done a lot of work, and we’ve made no difference,” Welsh told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Everyone is trying to do the right thing and figure out some way of stopping this. In fact, we haven’t even reversed the trend.”
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