Saturday, August 11, 2012

Changing of the Guard

Sacked. Colonel Glenn Palmer was fired Friday as Commander of the 737th Training Group at Lackland AFB, Texas. The unit, which oversees all basic military training for the service, has been embroiled in a sex scandal involving more than a dozen military training instructors and female trainees. The Air Force has also announced the departure of Palmer's boss, Colonel Eric Axelbank, amid growing pressure to fix the problems at Lackland (USAF photo).

The Air Force witnessed two major command shuffles on Friday, one at Andrews AFB, Maryland; the other at Lackland AFB, Texas. At first glance, the two events appear unrelated, yet on closer inspection, it seems clear that the command change at Andrews drove events at Lackland, and there may be more changes coming at the Texas installation.

During Friday's ceremony at Andrews, General Mark Welsh III became the 20th Air Force Chief of Staff, replacing General Norton Schwartz, who is retiring after 39 years of service. In his first address as CSAF, Welsh said he plans to focus on three priorities: winning the fight, strengthening the team and shaping future. More from Air Force Times:

Welsh said winning the fight means preparing for current and future wars.

“Readiness and training are not optional,” Welsh said.

Strengthening the team includes strengthening both the Air Force and interagency cooperations.

“I believe that the joint operations are the only way we are going to succeed on the battlefield,” he said. “If you plan on criticizing one of our sister services, don’t let me hear you.”

And the Air Force will play a major role in the United States’ future, which will be increasingly defined by the air, space and cyber domains, he said.

“We have to shape the future, and that will require innovative thinking and different approaches to problems — and it will require modernization,” Welsh said.

One of the first Air Force teams slated for improvement will be the 37th Training Wing at Lackland AFB. The wing, which conducts all basic military training for the service, has been rocked by a sex scandal involving more than a dozen military training instructors. So far, two former MTIs have been convicted of sexual misconduct with female trainees; three others will face court-martial in the future, and ten others are under investigation.

And, if the basic training scandal wasn't high on General Welsh's priority list a month ago, it certainly is now. Earlier this month, Texas Senator John Cornyn put a temporary hold on Welsh's nomination as CSAF until the general promised to launch a second investigation into the scandal at Lackland.

Which brings us yesterday's concurrent command shuffle at Lackland. About the time General Welsh was being sworn in as the new CSAF, the commander of Lackland's 737th Training Group, Colonel Glenn Palmer, was fired from his post. In his former job, Colonel Palmer supervised basic training at Lackland, including the squadron where most of the predatory MTIs were assigned. Palmer took over the 737th about the time the scandal broke last summer and while he was involved in the investigation, senior officials were clearly dissatisfied with the pace of reforms.

Palmer was sacked by the 37th Wing Commander, Colonel Eric Axelbank, who will be leaving that job in early September. Axelbank has been on the job for barely a year, so it's obvious that he was dismissed as well.

And rightfully so. As we wrote in this blog a few days ago, command changes at Lackland were long overdue:

So, what should General Welsh do? As the next Chief of Staff, he has a plate that's already full. From getting the F-35 and the KC-30 into service, to securing funding for the next-generation bomber--and steering the service through massive budget cuts--there 's no shortage of items on his agenda. But fixing the problems at Lackland should be priority #1. Basic military training is where all enlisted airmen begin their career. Every year, thousands of American families entrust their sons and daughters to the MTIs at Lackland; the service cannot tolerate conditions that allowed sexual predators to prey upon recruits.

That's why leadership changes at Lackland--and at the MAJCOM level--are imperative. [The leader of Air Education and Training Command] General Rice, along with Colonel Axelbank and Colonel Palmer--have had months to deal with this festering scandal. So far, they've done nothing to restore confidence in the integrity and safety of Air Force basic training. Simply stated, they've had their chance; now it's time for someone else to fix the problems.

So why did Palmer and Axelbank suddenly have to go? We're guessing the change was dictated by the installation of the new CSAF, and his mandate to clean up Lackland, once and for all. We're not saying that General Welsh personally ordered the dismissal of the two Colonels (but that possibility can't be completely discounted, either). On the other hand, it's highly likely that Welsh is leaning on Rice to deliver results, and the AETC Commander doesn't want to go into the first meeting with his new boss with nothing to show on the Lackland front.

With Friday's wave of dismissals at Lackland, the focus now shifts to the next commander of the 37th Training Wing, Colonel Mark Camerer, who arrives for duty in early September. Colonel Camerer is a career tanker and transport pilot who currently serves as commander of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover AFB, Delaware. The Colonel has his work cut out for him, and a lot of folks will be charting his progress, including the newly-installed Air Force Chief of Staff.


ADDENDUM: Another USAF organization that has been conspiciously silent on the scandal is 2nd Air Force at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. Among its various missions, the command is responsible for Air Force basic training conducted by the 37th Wing at Lackland. Major General "Len" Patrick is the current commander of 2nd Air Force; to date, we can't find any public statements by the general regarding the scandal and his plans for fixing the problems at Lackland AFB. Patrick testified before Congress on 2 August, but at least one representativeclaimed he "couldn't provide any real answers." Like Axelbank and Palmer, General Patrick assumed his current post last July--about the time the sex scandal erupted.

Interestingly enough, Patrick's predecessor, Major General Mary Kay Hertog, was a former commander of the 37th Wing, and now runs DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention Office in the Pentagon. So far, General Hertog seems to have escaped scrutiny in the matter, despite the fact that most of the reported assaults occurred while she was in charge of 2nd Air Force. We'll go out on a limb and predict that before this scandal is over, some folks at 2nd Air Force--current and former--will be given their walking papers as well.


davod said...

"So far, two former MTIs have been convicted of sexual misconduct with female trainees; three others will face court-martial in the future, and ten others are under investigation."

What is the sex of the MTIs involved.

George Smiley said...

So far, all of the MTIs accused of misconduct have been male.

CT Guy said...

Easy fix ,go back to female TI's for female flights/male TI's for male flights . It worked in the past. The Marines still do it . This political correctness is destroying the military .

Unknown said...

CT: Nothing like a common sense solution. Unfortunately, the PC police would scream about women being "denied" the opportunity to lead men, or something like that (and vice versa). It's that type of thinking that has created the mess at Lackland.