Sen. Martha McSally calls out service academies: 'Why are we putting 19-year-olds in charge of 18 year olds?'

Sen. Martha McSally. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sarah Villegas/U.S. Navy

Martha McSally actively served 22 years in the Air Force, rising to the rank of colonel before she retired in 2010.

The U.S. senator from Arizona was the first female pilot to fly in a combat mission. She successfully sued the Department of Defense to lift policy requiring servicewomen to wear a body-covering when traveling in Saudi Arabia.

In March, she revealed a senior officer raped her while she served in the Air Force.

And Thursday, in front of representatives from 128 universities, superintendents of three service academies and secretaries of the Army and Navy, she called out the leadership structure of the United States military, whereby young officers are in charge of other service members of nearly the same age.

"Why are we putting 19-year-olds in charge of 18 year olds?" she questioned the audience.

McSally's pointed questions were part of her keynote speech at the annual National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America's Colleges, Universities and Service Academies. The Naval Academy hosted the conference, which started Thursday and continues Friday.

McSally, appointed to replace U.S. Sen. John McCain after his death last year, was one of a number of speakers drawing attention to power imbalances and cultural factors that contribute to sexual assault at service academies.

Through keynote addresses, panel discussions and smaller breakout sessions, about 325 representatives of colleges and universities as well as sexual violence prevention advocates shared best practices, highlighted research and asked outstanding questions about the prevalence of sexual violence on campuses nationwide.

The conference comes two months after a Department of Defense report outlining the results of a biennial survey of service academy cadets and midshipmen.

This year, they reported increased unwanted sexual contact. Across the academies, 15.8% of female cadets and midshipmen experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2018, up from 12.2 percent in 2016. The rate of unwanted sexual contact among men increased from 1.7% in 2016 to 2.8% in 2018.

At the Naval Academy, rates of reported sexual harassment are on the rise as well, with 56% of women and 17 percent of men reporting some instance of harassment or gender discrimination.

McSally first revealed her personal experience with sexual violence during a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on sexual assault in the military. She said the rape is one of two unwanted sexual encounters she had during her time in the Air Force.

She urged military leaders Thursday to reexamine the learned cultures and leadership structures that might lead service members to perpetrate sexual violence against one another.

The military academies can be like a "pressure cooker," she said, where cadets and midshipmen learn to "do what you're told."

"But then we put 19-year-olds in charge of 18-year-olds, and the adults leave for the weekend and it's like 'Lord of the Flies,'" she said.

Within the Brigade of midshipmen and student populations at the other academies, upperclassmen lead their younger peers. Upon graduation, officers age 21 or 22 are often responsible for service members in their same age group.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, during a press conference, commended McSally on her "bold and insightful" speech, but said the leadership structure will remain.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Capital today. »

"Nineteen-year-olds will overlook 18-year-olds because of the way we're inculcating leadership," Spencer said. "That being said, there's a lot we can do to make sure that they have the tools they need to do this properly."

Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter, during the conference, highlighted some of the changes made to foster a safer environment for victims of sexual violence and encourage leadership that leads to prevention.

Midshipmen can sign up to be "guardian angels," watching over their peers in free time off-campus when they might be drinking. They can also become peer-educators in the academy's "SHAPE" program, whereby midshipmen talk to their peers about bystander intervention, sexual assault prevention and effective leadership

As an institution, the academy expanded the chaplain corps, often the "first stop" for survivors of unwanted sexual advances, Carter said, and offers mental health services as well as victim/survivor advocates and legal counsel.

The academy also moved the office where victims of unwanted sexual contact could report from Bancroft Hall, the dormitory for the entire brigade, to Dalghren Hall.

"(It's) a very close location, but not as immediately visible," he said, "and we saw an effective change in that."


©2019 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

SEE NEXT: Sexual Assaults At Military Service Academies Up Nearly 50 Percent Over 2 Years, Pentagon Finds

WATCH ALSO: Sen. Martha McSally Discloses Her Air Force Sexual Assault

FILE PHOTO: The Carl Vinson VA Medical Center iin Dublin, Georgia

RIVIERA BEACH — When a distraught patient opened fire at the VA Medical Center in February, Albert Gaines' long ago military training kicked into gear.

"When I saw the arm come up, I knew what was next, pow, pow, pow," said Gaines, who was doing his job, cleaning patient rooms, when gunfire erupted. "I hit the deck to minimize the target."

Now, three months after what his bosses at the hospital call "the active shooter incident," the 65-year-old Riviera Beach man still feels like a target is on him.

Read More Show Less

President Donald Trump could issue a pardon on Memorial Day for Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, former Special Forces Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, and Marine Scout Snipers accused of urinating on Taliban corpses, the New York Times is reporting.

The White House is working with the Justice Department and military services to get the paperwork necessary for the pardons in order, according to the Times.

Read More Show Less

If the Pentagon had to take Consumer Math class in high school, they'd flunk.

The U.S. military—correction, the U.S. taxpayer—is spending more money to buy fewer weapons. The reason? Poor acquisition practices, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"DOD's 2018 portfolio of major weapon programs has grown in cost by $8 billion, but contains four fewer systems than last year," GAO found.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on RFE/RL: Afghanistan.

KABUL -- An air strike has mistakenly killed at least nine Afghan police officers, including a commander, during a battle with the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand, local officials say.

They said that 14 officers were also wounded in the May 16 strike in the Nahr-e Saraj district , which is located outside the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army photo)

Chuck Norris contains multitudes.

He's an Oklahoman and an Air Force vet, an actor and martial artist. The intensity of his badassery formed the basis of one of the earliest and most ubiquitous internet memes. He's a fictional member of Delta Force and a Texas Ranger, his beard a source of such virile endurance and strength that it makes Samson's biblical mane look like a bouquet of hobo pubes.

Now, Norris will live forever as the ultimate instrument of righteousness: an M1 Abrams tank.

Read More Show Less