Whistleblower's lawyer: USAF could do more

bbunch@theitem.comOctober 27, 2013 

Jennifer Smith's lawyer said the U.S. Air Force has taken a good first step but still has a way to go.

Earlier this week, the Air Force announced eight high-ranking officers at Shaw Air Force Base were reprimanded for various substantiated allegations made by the former female airman, who accused the military branch of creating a sexually hostile workplace for women.

Smith, a 17-year highly decorated enlisted veteran of the Air Force who rose to the rank of technical sergeant, made her formal complaint of various sexual misconduct charges in November 2012, ultimately leading to Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells ordering an investigation into the various accusations.

In addition, declassified reports from the Smith investigation verified it was the former technical sergeant's whistleblowing that led to the "Health and Welfare Inspection" ordered last year by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. During this investigation at more than 100 Air Force installations worldwide involving nearly 600,000 military and civilian personnel, officials removed 631 pieces of pornography, 3,987 pieces of "unprofessional material" and 27,598 pieces of "inappropriate or offensive items" from military workplaces.

Susan Burke, the Washington, D.C.,-based lawyer representing Smith, responded this weekend to the results of the investigation.

"We are pleased that the Air Force recognizes the seriousness of these issues," Burke said. "Much more remains to be done to eliminate the hostile environment that exists toward women."

Two colonels, five lieutenant colonels (including one who has since retired) and a captain — all assigned to Shaw Air Force Base — were reprimanded for various allegations, including allowing sexually offensive materials to be displayed in the workplace, failing to take measures to prevent sexual harassment and allowing sexually offensive files to be stored on government computers.

The reprimands for Shaw officials came from 14 of the 38 total allegations made by Smith back in November 2012. It should be noted reports indicate investigators were unable to substantiate a majority of the claims made by Smith.

However, according to the declassified reports, of the 205 airmen interviewed during the investigation, 91 of them, or 44 percent, testified to seeing "either inappropriate or offensive material in the workplace."

Twenty-five airmen also said they had seen "inappropriate materials" on Air Force computers.

Reach Braden Bunch at (803) 774-1201.

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