Jan 24 2013
WASHINGTON — Paula Coughlin and Jennifer Norris finished each other’s sentences, laughed loudly and put a hand on the other’s shoulder. Coughlin is a retired Navy lieutenant and helicopter pilot; Norris a retired Air Force technical sergeant. But what brought them together and to the Capitol is that both are survivors of military sexual assault — and Norris was preparing to testify to Congress Wednesday on the armed forces’ ongoing sexual assault problem.
More than two decades ago, Coughlin had come forward to blow the whistle on the military sex scandal known as Tailhook, for the Las Vegas military convention where widespread assault and harassment, including her own, took place. She told The Huffington Post that she had received personal guarantees from the president, the secretary of defense and her chain of command that such an incident would never happen again.
Yet on Wednesday, Norris testified before the House Armed Services Committee on one of the largest sex scandals in the history of the military, which emerged at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, in just the last few years.
“I thought Tailhook was a huge mushroom cloud of change. It’s really the tip of the iceberg, and I don’t know what the timeline is going to be,” Coughlin told HuffPost. “How many more Lacklands and Aberdeens and huge, disgusting, really detrimental scandals does the military need to survive until they get the guidance from leadership to solve this?”
Fifty-nine victims — three of them men — have come forward in the continuing Air Force investigation, which has been expanded to look at the past decade at the Lackland base, where members of the Air Force go through basic training. Thirty-two drill sergeants and training instructors have been disciplined on charges ranging from rape to unprofessional relationships, according to Gen. Edward Rice, the Air Force commander for Air Education and Training Command, one of the first witnesses at the House hearing Wednesday. Rice noted in his testimony that the latter number represents less than 4 percent of those who have served since 2009, the year many of the incidents date back to. Eight have been convicted, nine await courts martial proceedings and 15 others remain under further investigation.
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