The first and only general in the history of the Air Force to face a court-martial will retire as a colonel this week, the final outcome of the case that saw Maj. Gen. William Cooley convicted of sexually assaulting his brother’s wife.

A military judge found Cooley guilty of abusive sexual contact for forcing a kiss on his sister-in-law in a car on Aug. 12, 2018. The two had been at a family cookout at the woman’s home in Albuquerque, New Mexico and she was driving Cooley back to his quarters nearby.

The same military judge did not convict him on charges of groping the woman.

The woman was married to Cooley’s brother, who held a senior role as a civilian employee in weapons research in Albuquerque.

Task & Purpose does not identify accusers in sexual assault cases but the woman that Cooley assaulted indicated consent during the trial for her relationship with Cooley to be described in media coverage.

Cooley’s permanent reduction in rank is a more severe punishment than was handed down at his trial and was decided on by Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall, officials with the Air Force Materiel Command said in a statement. Air Force judge Col. Christina M. Jimenez sentenced Cooley in April 2022 with a reprimand and a forfeiture of pay of about $50,000.

“Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley will retire at the rank of colonel, effective June 1, 2023, following an officer grade determination by the Secretary of the Air Force,” the statement said. “The Department of the Air Force expects its leaders to embody our Core Values, and holds them accountable if they fall short of expectations.”

At trial, witnesses including the accuser said Cooley was visiting his brother and his wife in Albuquerque while on a business trip and was drinking at their home during a cookout. At the end of the evening, the woman offered to drive him to his quarters. Cooley, she said on trial, began kissing her in the car, which she resisted, and used vulgar language to describe his sexual interest in her. 

“Bill Cooley’s attack on me was like an F5 tornado coming into my house, without my knowledge … without my consent, ruining everything in its path,” she said, according to the Journal-News, a local newspaper based in Butler County, Ohio.

The woman did not report Cooley until December of that year, but eventually came forward, she said at trial, because her job involves advising companies on reporting assaults. She said on the stand that she “felt like a fraud” for letting Cooley get away with that behavior.

Cooley was the first general officer to face a court martial in the Air Force’s history. His rank presented some unique stumbling blocks, particularly in jury selection. By rule, a court martial jury must be made up of officers of higher rank than the accused — which in Cooley’s case would have meant a panel of three- and four-star generals.

In the end, Jimenez, the military judge, decided she would decide the verdict.

By retiring, Cooley will be eligible for a lifetime pension, deeply discounted health care plans for himself and his immediate family and several other retirement benefits, like access to base hospitals, shopping and military recreational facilities.

But his reduced retirement rank may cost Cooley significantly. Military pensions are calculated with a wide range of variables, but under the most straightforward retirement rules listed on the military’s retirement benefits website, a two-star General might expect a pension between $120,000 to $140,000 per year, while a Colonel with the same years of service might expect between $90,000 and $110,000.

As a two-star general, Cooley commanded the Air Force Research Laboratory, a weapons and technology lab.

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