The Air Force, already rocked by a sexual abuse scandal at JBSA-Lackland, Tex., now faces another high-profile case of alleged sexual misconduct—this time at Aviano AB, Italy.
Aug. 17, 2012—Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, former 31st Fighter Wing inspector general at Aviano AB, Italy, faces a court-martial for allegedly groping a female civilian base employee in March, announced Aviano officials on Aug. 16.
Specifically, the Air Force has charged Wilkerson, who was the wing's IG from January to May, with two counts of violating Article 120 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice—for abusive sexual contact and aggravated sexual assault—and three counts of violating Article 133—for conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman. (See the detailed charges.)
He faces a maximum sentence of more than 37 years of confinement if convicted in his trial this fall, said the officials.
"The Air Force and the 31st Fighter Wing are dedicated to a culture where sexual assault is simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated," said Brig. Gen. Scott Zobrist, 31st FW commander, in a release.
The charges are the result of an investigation by Air Force Office of Special Investigation agents after the woman came forward with allegations of criminal conduct, according to a second Aviano release.
"I take any allegation of criminal conduct by someone under my command very seriously—regardless of the rank of the accuser or that of the alleged offender," stated Zobrist.
In May, Zobrist temporarily relieved Wilkerson of his position as the IG, Capt. Erick Saks, 31st FW spokesman, told the Daily Report. Wilkerson was reassigned as the special assistant to the operations group commander, pending the results of his court-martial, which is slated to begin on Oct. 26.
Since Zobrist serves as the special court-martial convening authority, it would be inappropriate for him to specifically address Wilkerson's case, said Saks. However, base officials are taking the allegations seriously and doing their best to remain transparent throughout the process, he noted.
Zobrist also relieved the wing's vice commander, Col. Dean Ostovich, from duty in June due to a loss of confidence in him. Although there was no single event that led to the dismissal, information revealed during the Wilkerson investigation played some role in Zobrist's decision, said Saks.
Privacy laws prohibited Saks from elaborating because the Air Force has not charged Ostovich with any crime. Saks said there are no pending actions against Ostovich, who has been reassigned to the Pentagon, but could be called as a witness in Wilkerson's trial."In the military justice system—just like in its civilian counterpart—any person accused of a crime is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty," said Zobrist.Aviano is the second Air Force installation known to be currently dealing with high-profile allegations of sexual misconduct. Already JBSA-Lackland, Tex., home of the service's Basic Military Training, is in the midst of a scandal, with 15 former military training instructors accused of sexual abuse with some 38 former trainees.So far, three of those former MTIs have received sentences ranging from 30 days of confinement to 20 years of confinement after convictions in military courts for actions ranging from improper relationships with trainees to rape.Last week, news broke that the commander of training activities at Lackland had relieved Col. Glenn Palmer, the BMT commander, of duty after losing confidence in his abilities "to maintain a safe and secure training environment" for trainees. This followed the removal of Lackland's 331st Training Squadron commander. That's the unit to which the majority of the 15 MTIs under investigation were assigned.Further, Air Education and Training Command is conducting a command-directed investigation into the sexual abuse and misuse of authority within BMT and other AETC initial and technical training units.
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