Despite confusing fitness standards, Air Force didn’t play favorites with female special tactics trainee, IG says
An Air Force inspector general investigation into alleged favoritism in the service’s special operations enterprise concluded that leaders did not bend the rules for a female trainee who pulled out of contention for an elite combat job.Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall green-lit the investigation after an anonymous letter posted to social media in January alleged…
An Air Force inspector general investigation into alleged favoritism in the service’s special operations enterprise concluded that leaders did not bend the rules for a female trainee who pulled out of contention for an elite combat job.Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall green-lit the investigation after an anonymous letter posted to social media in January alleged that service officials are turning a blind eye to the captain’s poor performance as she ventures to become the first female special tactics officer. But the four-month inquiry found that Air Force special warfare standards were not lowered specifically to benefit women.Leadership did, however, let the trainee restart after quitting late in the process. That did not amount to foul play, in part because Air Force rules did not expressly forbid reinstating pipeline dropouts, according to the watchdog’s final report published Tuesday. Her valuable insight into cyber operations and as a woman earned her unique opportunities as well.“Facts did not support the letter’s claims of gender-based preferential treatment,” the report said. “The letter’s assertions are based mainly on … ‘cultural norms,’ knowledge of half the story and widely spread speculation fueled by special warfare students, instructor cadre and operators.”About three dozen people provided sworn testimony to investigators or offered additional statements and information on related matters.Special tactics is the Air Force’s name for a collection of commando jobs, including combat controllers, pararescue and special reconnaissance airmen, who are all led by special tactics officers. It’s a small cohort within the far larger Air Force Special Operations Command, comprising roughly 1,000 operators, and is the service’s most decorated community since the Vietnam War.The female captain, called “Candidate X” in the report, is one of only a few women who have attempted to earn a commando’s beret since the Air Force opened the prestigious career fields to female airmen in 2016. None have succeeded.“AFSOC and [Air Education and Training Command] are working together to ensure the training pipeline meets the demands of what we need for the operator of today and into the future,” the Air Force said in a statement provided to Air Force Times Tuesday. “Our commanders are meeting with their teams to ensure open communication about the investigation results and to address any questions/concerns.”RELATED‘Just people chirping’The anonymous letter-writer’s main criticisms focused on double standards for the woman in question, who was allowed to resume training after multiple incidents in which she was passed over or asked to leave.Air Force Times is withholding the female airman’s name for privacy reasons.In one instance, the letter alleged the woman tried to quit pool training — a prerequisite for combat diving — but was made to continue. The letter also claimed that she was not chosen to proceed to formal special tactics courses, but leadership overrode the decision, and that she was unfairly given another chance after dropping out of a land navigation course.The IG report portrays a web of misunderstandings, conflicting notions of what special warfare training should entail, and confusion in the AFSOC community about which fitness benchmarks were in effect at various times throughout the past few years.RELATEDThe anonymous writer took issue with an incident in fall 2018 during “water confidence” training, part of the weeklong “Phase II” process that decides who gets to start years of formal special tactics courses.The woman allegedly disqualified herself during the water training session, but was allowed to continue. One witness testified that the captain left the pool and said she was done, but the female airman contends she didn’t speak at all, according to investigators.“People started saying that they heard … she said she was done,” one witness told investigators. “I don’t hold much value in that. … I think it was just people chirping.”Other airmen leave the pool and get back in, an instructor who spoke with the candidate poolside testified: “She wasn’t treated any differently than anybody else was at that point.”The instructor said the woman never explicitly mentioned quitting, but was concerned about letting her team down while she struggled with one part of the drill, according to the report. When he asked whether she intended to quit, she said no.Second Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Michele Edmondson and Chief Master Sgt. Adam Vizi, the command chief, watch 350th Special Warfare Training Squadron students performing water confidence training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Jan. 21. (Nicholas J. De La Pena/Air Force) “My intention was to help my team because the event that we were currently in was very difficult, and they said [I] could help my team by getting back in the pool,” the woman testified. “That’s what I did. … I just was at a loss for what we needed to do in order to progress [to] that solution.”The Air Force argues that her actions did not constitute a “self-initiated elimination,” or decision to stop pursuing special warfare, saying that training rules allow candidates to pause to gather their thoughts and directly answer how they plan to proceed.Self-eliminations are only official when someone relinquishes their rifle, the report said. It defined the female candidate’s pool incident as “quitting by action.”“One instance of [quitting by action] does not constitute the end of a candidate’s Phase II evaluation,” the report said. Someone must quit three times in separate events to be kicked out of Phase II.RELATEDAnother witness said it’s not unusual for male candidates to do the same and be allowed to finish Phase II: “You’re just getting data points on that person.”At the end of the week, the same witness said, the woman didn’t quit — but she wasn’t selected. Only one instructor voted for Candidate X to continue. Of those who did not, nearly three-fourths of the instructors voted to give her another chance in a year or less.“The decision to allow her to complete the session followed written … standards,” the report said. “Candidate X’s recommendation for reassessment was normal practice for candidates who showed strong potential to succeed in the special tactics career field.”Most instructors voted for the woman to move on when she came back for a second try at Phase II in October 2019, the report added.Maj. Gen. Matthew Davidson, center, Air Force Special Operations Command’s director of operations, briefs future special warfare airmen on the gravity of their mission sets in the age of strategic competition at Joint Base San Antonio-Chapman Training Annex, Texas, March 17. (1st Lt. Xiaofan Liu/Air Force) Pool issues continueThe candidate progressed to a diving preparation course in February 2020 but was not allowed to finish for medical reasons.She was hurt about a week into the training and struggled with pre-dive tasks that aggravated the injury, the report said. Medical staff would not clear her to continue the course, and an instructor suggested she recover and try again later.“There is no truth to the claim Candidate X quit the pre-dive course or was pulled from the pool by instructor cadre,” the report said.The report did not specify the medical issue she experienced.She restarted the pre-dive segment two months later at Hurlburt Field, Florida, where AFSOC held water training for a backlog of students that built up at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes also paused after a student died at the combat dive course.RELATEDThe pre-dive class in Florida used the same curriculum as the usual location in Texas, and was run by qualified instructors, the report said. Then the Army offered the Air Force up to 20 spots in its combat dive school in the Florida Keys, and the woman was among 15 or so airmen picked to go.She progressed through sessions like airfield operations; survival, evasion, resistance and escape; and military free-fall, reaching the special tactics officer apprentice course at the Special Warfare Training Wing’s Combat Control School at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, in March 2021.There, the woman quit during a land navigation portion of the course, a solo event in which trainees are tasked with using a map and compass to find their way to multiple points in the woods.“Three witnesses who had firsthand experience with [her] … testified they were surprised she quit because she excelled in the course and was on course to graduate,” the report said, noting that instructors and students would openly disparage her in training.Special warfare trainees participate in the Special Warfare Training Wing rededication ceremony in honor of Lt. Col. William Schroeder and Staff Sgt. Scott Sather at the SWTW training compound Joint Base San Antonio, Chapman Training Annex, Apr. 8. (Brian Boisvert/Air Force) The IG review found the situation was unusual but not unheard of: Five special warfare candidates in the past 10 years have exited near the end of the process, but the female airman is the only one who asked to return.“The point at which Candidate X self-eliminated — after completing most of the apprentice pipeline — was unprecedented, prompting [Special Warfare Training Wing and 24th Special Operations Wing] leaders to consider the circumstances that led a well-performing officer to [drop out] late in training,” the report said.Though the Air Force suggested that other airmen who dropped out at various points in Combat Control School should be retrained into other jobs, citing Air Force policy, the woman’s paperwork advised supervisors to readmit her and “proceed [in accordance with Special Warfare Training Wing and 24th Special Operations Wing] determination,” Air Force Times previously reported.Still, investigators concluded that the Air Force followed the same procedure as it would for other officers who are removed from training. The candidate went back to Hurlburt Field, as her peers did when awaiting their next course, and waited for reassignment.In April 2021, she penned a report to command leaders detailing her time in the pipeline and disparities she encountered. Officials noted her experience has differed from her male peers in that she is given unequal facilities and treated disparagingly by others in the community.The woman received an Air Education and Training Command form, signed by a top enlisted member of her squadron, recommending that she be considered for reinstatement if the training and ops wings allowed.RELATEDHer feedback and her performance in training led the 24th Special Operations Wing to give her another chance to finish the program, wing commander Col. Jason Daniels wrote in a Jan. 10 memo obtained by Air Force Times.“She was performing at a level where I need her to be,” her unnamed squadron commander testified in the IG report. “I don’t know why she wouldn’t be given another chance.”Back at AFSOC headquarters, command boss Lt. Gen. Jim Slife picked the woman to work at the Cochran Group — a sort of in-house special ops think tank — despite her lack of commando experience. Some witnesses told the IG it’s no different than how other Cochran staffers are chosen, and the group’s director praised her talent.“Since there is a cyber component to the special operations ground force of the future, ‘her cyber background obviously was attractive,’” Slife told investigators. “[She’s] bright, and a good thinker and communicates well. She was well qualified.”Another AFSOC staff member felt the woman was not uniquely qualified for the Cochran Group compared to other airmen, but that “she brought a lot of really strong experience … on how we could adapt the force to be more technically savvy and take advantage of cyber and space capabilities,” the report said.The woman returned to Pope on March 31. Screenshots of trainee records there obtained by Air Force Times indicated further struggles on multiple occasions.“On [April 12], you exhibited a failure to train by falling out of the land navigation formation ruck,” according to instructor comments obtained by Air Force Times. Candidate X “failed to maintain an 18:30-minute-per-mile average pace.”The comments argued that the female airman lacked motivation after she lagged behind the group, even after trying to lead the team.“I do not believe this is a drive issue, but do concur this is a physical fitness issue,” the woman answered. “Can be mitigated by strength. Don’t believe this is an aerobic capacity issue.”A service spokesperson declined to comment on further allegations of favoritism since the woman returned to Pope, citing privacy for trainees in a high-stress field.After the anonymous allegations went viral online, the Air Force said it was in the process of codifying the steps that an airman must take to return to training after quitting.“For years, the 24 SOW standard operating procedure for [special tactics officer] selection and re-entry into the pipeline has been to wait for one year or longer before returning for another attempt,” Daniels said.As one witness put it: “Word out on the street is, if you quit, you never come back. … We’ve learned over the years that’s not true.”RELATEDConflicting fitness standardsThe woman’s attempts to forge through the physically and mentally grueling special warfare curriculum have coincided with a yearslong effort to redefine the qualities the Air Force seeks in its modern elite airmen.PT standards changed right as the female officer arrived at Combat Control School in 2021, as Air Force Times previously reported. Many critics attributed the change in standards to her arrival, but the IG argued it was part of the broader review of fitness testing and unrelated to her performance.Special tactics officer hopefuls face two separate tests: one that all special warfare airmen take annually, and another built for the special tactics career field.Special warfare airmen-in-training conduct team push-ups at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, in an undated photo. (Air Force) The PT test for all of special warfare has changed twice since 2016 as AFSOC tried to better measure “anaerobic capacity, power, agility and muscular strength,” the report said. The test designed for special tactics also changed once, at the squadron level, in anticipation of new standards that never became official.Two days after the female airman started Army dive training in the Keys in May 2020, her squadron changed its special tactics fitness goals so that they exceeded those used by the broader community.For instance, special tactics candidates needed to perform 12 pull-ups rather than eight, and deadlift 300 pounds rather than 225 pounds, the IG report said.RELATEDAfter a male candidate did 11 pull-ups in Combat Control School — three more than the special warfare standard but one fewer than the special tactics requirement — and failed the course, a slate of recently arrived commanders wondered why the PT criteria didn’t match up across the enterprise, the report said.The Air Force tried to close the gap between the different criteria in February 2021 but worried it would create more confusion.“A review of internal emails shows that 24 SOW and SWTW leadership expressed concern about the changing fitness standards in the training pipeline and unclear implementation strategy,” the report said. “Leadership testified they were concerned with holding [special tactics] students to a higher pull-up and trap bar deadlift standard than the [special warfare PT test].”Instead of raising the bar for special warfare airmen, the training wing adopted slightly lower standards for special tactics so the two would match. It would serve as an interim fix while more challenging goals were tested throughout 2021.Slife, the AFSOC commander, has publicly pushed back on the idea that special tactics is getting soft.“We do make changes in how we train airmen in order to improve the effectiveness of our training, but we do not lower our standards. … Period,” he wrote.Air Force Special Tactics and combat rescue officer candidates participate in a pool training session while a cadre member evaluates them as part of assessment and selection at Hurlburt Field, Florida, March 24, 2021. (Tech. Sgt. Rose Gudex/Air Force) Still, the waffling created problems for the female airman, who started the apprentice course at Pope shortly after the requirements dropped to eight pull-ups and a 220-pound deadlift.“I believe the change in standards invalidated me with a majority of my team,” she said in comments previously reported by Air Force Times. “We were not told any standards, and I lifted 250 lbs. Since I passed, they believed the standards had been bent for me.”The annual PT test for all special warfare airmen was most recently updated in February, Air Force spokesman Col. Todd Vician said Tuesday.Its minimum performance standards in each category include: a 3-mile, 60-pound ruck march completed in 49 minutes or less; a 76-inch standing long jump; 5.5-second agility drills; a 270-pound deadlift; 10 pull-ups; 29-second farmer’s carry with two 53-pound kettlebells; an 80.5-second shuttle run; and either a 1,500-meter swim under 42 minutes, 50 seconds, or a 1.5-mile run under 12 minutes, 17 seconds.Special tactics operators assigned to the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, watch a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft take off from the Eglin Range Complex, Florida, Dec. 8, 2021. (Tech. Sgt. Carly Kavish/Air Force) ‘Leave her alone’The investigation refuted other related claims, including that she was offered a place in a special mission unit without applying and that it was wrong to single her out to write an after-action report on her experiences.The IG also dismissed the idea that the woman is unfairly being pushed through training to satisfy Pentagon and congressional leaders, and that more interest amounts to preferential treatment.Five women are currently progressing through special warfare training, the report noted. Three women are special tactics officer candidates, including the captain at the heart of the investigation; one is an enlisted special reconnaissance candidate and another is an enlisted tactical air control party candidate.Air Education and Training Command gets monthly updates on women in special warfare training, as do U.S. Special Operations Command and the Air Force chief of staff about four times a year under an earlier Pentagon mandate. The service sends new information on the initiative to the defense secretary each year as required in the 2016 order to integrate combat ground forces.A combat controller with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron jumps from a C-130J Super Hercules for a parachute demonstration during the Thunder Over Louisville air show at Louisville, Ky., April 23. (Staff Sgt. Clayton Wear/Air National Guard) The Air Force is not required to report weekly or monthly updates on female special warfare candidates to Congress, contradicting the anonymous letter’s allegations, the report added.Rather, the squadrons have been bombarded with official and unofficial requests for information on trainees, which may have caused people to think commanders wanted updates on female airmen more often, the report said.“It wasn’t just about females,” one witness told the IG. “Everyone and their brother felt like they had something to say, something to offer, a critique or a question. … It was downright intolerable, the amount of people that were all up in our [business].”Slife told investigators that 24th Special Operations Wing leaders tried to “leave her alone,” “protect her from … scrutiny” and “let her get through training the way everybody else gets through training.”Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.
Son of former LA Dodger Steve Sax killed in California Osprey crash
LOS ANGELES — Former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Sax has issued a statement saying that his 33-year-old son who had always dreamed of being a pilot was among five U.S. Marines killed during a training flight crash earlier this week in the California desert.Capt. John J. Sax was among the aircrew of an Osprey…
LOS ANGELES — Former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Sax has issued a statement saying that his 33-year-old son who had always dreamed of being a pilot was among five U.S. Marines killed during a training flight crash earlier this week in the California desert.Capt. John J. Sax was among the aircrew of an Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that went down during training in a remote area in Imperial County, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) east of San Diego and about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Yuma, Arizona.Capt. John J. Sax (Marine Corps) “It is with complete devastation that I announce that my precious son, Johnny was one of the five US Marines that perished on Wednesday, June 8, in the Osprey Military crash near San Diego,” Steve Sax said in a statement published Saturday by CBSLA-TV.“For those of you that knew Johnny, you saw his huge smile, bright light, his love for his family, the Marines, the joy of flying airplanes and defending our country! He was my hero and the best man I know, there was no better person to defend our country.”The former Dodger said his son had wanted to be a pilot since he was young and would talk about the types of planes that were flying overhead while playing in the outfield in Little League baseball.“There was never any doubt from a young age that Johnny would be a pilot and his passion was to fly!” the statement said. “This loss will change my life forever and is a loss to not only the Marines but this world!”Steve Sax played in the Major Leagues from 1981 to 1994, winning two world championships during his seven years as a second-baseman with the Dodgers. Fans, Major League Baseball and the team offered condolences on social media.“The Los Angeles Dodgers are saddened to hear about the passing of Steve Sax’s son, John, and the five Marines who lost their lives in this week’s tragic helicopter accident. Our thoughts and condolences go out to their families and friends,” the Dodgers said in a tweet Saturday.John J. Sax is survived by his wife, Amber, who is pregnant with their second child, and their 20-month-old daughter, said Dodgers spokesperson Steve Brener.Sax, of Placer, California, was one of two pilots killed in the crash, along with Capt. Nicholas P. Losapio, 31, of Rockingham, New Hampshire.Also killed were three tiltrotor crew chiefs: Cpl. Nathan E. Carlson, 21, of Winnebago, Illinois; Cpl. Seth D. Rasmuson, 21, of Johnson, Wyoming; and Lance Cpl. Evan A. Strickland, 19, of Valencia, New Mexico.The Marines were based at Camp Pendleton and assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 364 of Marine Aircraft Group 39, part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.The Osprey, a hybrid airplane and helicopter, flew in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but has been criticized by some as unsafe. It is designed to take off like a helicopter, rotate its propellers to a horizontal position and cruise like an airplane.The cause of the crash was under investigation.
Brookings places retired Marine general on leave amid FBI probe
The prestigious Brookings Institution placed its president, retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, on administrative leave Wednesday amid a federal investigation into Allen’s foreign lobbying.Brookings’ announcement came a day after The Associated Press reported on new court filings that show the FBI recently seized Allen’s electronic data as part of an investigation into his role…
The prestigious Brookings Institution placed its president, retired four-star Marine Gen. John Allen, on administrative leave Wednesday amid a federal investigation into Allen’s foreign lobbying.Brookings’ announcement came a day after The Associated Press reported on new court filings that show the FBI recently seized Allen’s electronic data as part of an investigation into his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of the wealthy Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.An FBI agent said in an affidavit in support of a search warrant there was “substantial evidence” that Allen had knowingly broken a foreign lobbying law. Allen had made false statements and withheld “incriminating” documents, the FBI agent’s affidavit said.Allen has not been charged with any crimes and previously denied any wrongdoing.Brookings told staffers Wednesday that the institute itself is not under federal investigation. The think tank’s executive vice president, Ted Gayer, will serve as acting president.“Brookings has strong policies in place to prohibit donors from directing research activities,” the email said. “We have every confidence in the Brookings team’s ability to remain focused on delivering quality, independence, and impact.”The federal investigation involving Allen has already ensnared Richard G. Olson, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan who pleaded guilty to federal charges last week, and Imaad Zuberi, a prolific political donor now serving a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Several members of Congress have been interviewed as part of the investigation.The new court filings detail Allen’s behind-the scenes efforts to help Qatar influence U.S. policy in 2017 when a diplomatic crisis erupted between the gas-rich Persian Gulf monarchy and its neighbors.Allen’s alleged work for Qatar involved traveling to Qatar and met with the country’s top officials to offer them advice on how to influence U.S. policy, as well as promoting Qatar’s point of view to top White House officials and members of Congress, the FBI’s affidavit says.Brookings is one of the most prestigious think thanks in the U.S.Allen, who was a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution prior to becoming president in late 2017, used his official email account at the think tank for some of his Qatar-related communications, the affidavit says.Qatar has long been one of Brookings’ biggest financial backers, though the institution says it has recently stopped taking Qatari funding.
Lawmakers want Army to set up program to experiment with electrical tactical vehicle operations
Oshkosh Defense debuted a hybrid electric version of its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle in a virtual event on Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Oshkosh Defense)WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee lawmakers want the U.S. Army to establish and run a pilot program examining how electric tactical vehicles might operate in…
Oshkosh Defense debuted a hybrid electric version of its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle in a virtual event on Jan. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Oshkosh Defense)WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Subcommittee lawmakers want the U.S. Army to establish and run a pilot program examining how electric tactical vehicles might operate in the field.In the Army’s climate strategy released earlier this year, the service laid out a goal to field hybrid electric tactical vehicles by 2035 and all-electric vehicles by 2050. But with that pledge comes a complicated logistics tail for maintaining and recharging them on the battlefield.The Army also approved a tactical and combat vehicle electrification, or TaCV-E, initial capabilities document in December 2021 that “informs the transition to advancing electrification capabilities and operational requirements generation for the ground vehicles fleet,” according to the subcommittee’s fiscal 2023 authorization mark.The subcommittee members are “interested if electrification in the near term is achievable for tactical ground vehicles given the evident operational benefits associated with reduced vehicle thermal and noise signature, increased dash speed and reduction in liquid fuel requirements.”RELATEDBy prototyping and experimenting with TaCV-E, the military could gain a better understanding of what is needed to operate and to inform planning and potential issues, the mark states.The subcommittee said there is “considerable and apparent” value for the service to enter into Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, also known as CRADAs, with industry partners.And the Army should establish a pilot program at one of the combat training centers, like the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, to experiment and demonstrate “integrated electrification capabilities” to include electric vehicles, mobile fleet charging systems and exportable power generation during operational training exercises, the subcommittee suggests.Should the language make it into the final FY23 authorization bill, the Army secretary would be required to provide by Jan. 15 a report to the HASC on whether a pilot program would be feasible and what the effort would cost.As Defense News first reported, the Army is preparing its first-ever operational energy strategy, which is expected by the end of the year. In the strategy, the Army would map out how it manages and distributes power in operations across the battlefield.The Army is already working with industry in a number of ways, including assessing capabilities at exercises stateside such as the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment.The service is assessing the possibility of fielding a hybrid electric version of several of its vehicles, including the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.Oshkosh, the JLTV’s manufacturer, unveiled earlier this yea, a hybrid version of the vehicle, but the Army does not have a stated requirement for the capability yet. And the service plans in FY23 to decide whether it will pursue a hybrid Bradley.The most likely candidate to become an all-electric tactical vehicle is the Electric Light Reconnaissance Vehicle. The Army has looked at a variety of options through demonstrations, but has yet to fund the effort.Last year, Army Futures Command’s Applications Laboratory picked companies to participate in a cohort to develop ways to power electric vehicles in austere, remote locations.A separate mark of the FY23 authorization bill would require the Pentagon to set up a pilot program for transitioning entire non-tactical vehicle fleets at certain installations to electric power.The HASC’s readiness subcommittee wants the secretary of each military department to select an installation for the pilot and submit a plan to make all non-tactical vehicles at that location electric-powered by 2025.Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.