Appointees speak about Air Force Academy scandal

By Pam Zubeck The Gazette (KRT) COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. _ Anna Schwisow has wanted to fly jets since she saw the Blue Angels perform when she was an adolescent. She even became a licensed pilot to make sure it’s what she wants. It is. But now, the Melba, Idaho, resident is torn: Air Force Academy or Naval Academy? Among 250 appointees who attended orientation Monday at the Air Force Academy north of Colorado Springs, Schwisow is perplexed by the school’s sexual assault scandal. “It undermines the whole honor thing,” she said. “That’s what I like about the academy, and I don’t think they really lived up to that.” But the issue isn’t at the forefront for many appointees and their parents. Few questions surfaced about claims by dozens of female cadets that they were discouraged from reporting sexual misbehavior or punished when they did report. The claims have triggered probes by the Air Force, Pentagon and an oversight panel authorized by Congress. Some members of what will become the class of 2007 give little thought to the ordeal, among them Mary Asher Vendt, Lebanon, Ohio. “It didn’t affect me at all,” she said of the scandal. “They’ll probably overcompensate now.” For the first time, appointee orientation featured a 25-minute outline of how the academy deals with rape. Col. Dana Born, a 1983 graduate who heads the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, said the approach is simple: “Help the victim and hold the perpetrator accountable.” To alter what’s been termed a culture of abuse, the academy has adopted more than 40 directives, including clustering females in dormitories, 24-hour security in dorms, amnesty from rules infractions for victims and a hard line against alcohol violations. “If you provide, buy or give an underage person alcohol, you are gone,” she said. “In almost all of these cases you’re reading about in the news, there was alcohol involved, and there was some level of improper relationship involved.” A male appointee asked how the academy would handle a false accusation. “It would be treated as strongly as being accused of rape,” Born replied. The issue, though, took a backseat to questions about athletics, flight school and academics. Jessica Crombeecke of Lakewood, Wash., who wants to be an astronaut, is encouraged by the academy’s response. “It made me more confident in coming here because they’re talking about the issue,” she said. “A lot of schools are hush-hush.” Cherry Maxfield, Mechanicsville, Va., doesn’t fear for her daughter, Jenna, appointed by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. “She knows how to not put herself in a bad situation,” she said, “She knows how to access authority figures if there’s a problem.” Jenna, who is considering walking in her dad’s footsteps as a fighter pilot, is glad to see the Air Force actions. “I feel more comfortable that some staff members are being removed,” she said, adding letters to cadets from Air Force brass assuring change is happening demonstrated “they really care about us.” One father, though, wasn’t as impressed. John Snyder, Pickerington, Ohio, whose daughter will attend the academy, said he’d have liked to have seen Air Force Secretary James Roche or Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper at orientation. “But at least it’s being addressed,” he said. ___ ‘copy 2003, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Visit GT Online, the World Wide Web site of The Gazette, at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.