On Sept. 22, Col. Deborah Liddick was appointed as the new commander of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. Only three women in the last decade have held such an esteemed position, and over 36,000 airmen graduate each year under the basic training commander’s leadership.
One of San Antonio’s most prominent landmarks, Lackland has been under close watch since July, after females from the camp spoke out about being sexually violated by one of the instructors.
“I will ensure the airmen under my command maintain the highest standards possible, that the standards are enforced and folks are held accountable,” Liddick told reporters at Star Telegram.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, in the midst of the controversy at Lackland, Liddick told reporters that gender was not an issue in her appointment.
“Col. Liddick was the best-qualified officer that I think I could have made a recommendation for,” Col. Mark Camerer, commander of the 37th Training Wing, told the the San Antonio Express-News.
Several UTSA students feel the same. “I think it is great that women are finally getting equal chances in our nation’s military,” stated anthropology major John Poplawsky. “Women have long been given lesser opportunities, and I think our base is unique in that a woman’s perspective would have the opportunity to change the overall environment.”
Lackland Air Base has been in the media regarding sexual violence since 2009. Six instructors were charged, and 12 instructors are under investigation for alleged sexual violence against some of the trainees. Airforce investigators received reports from 42 women who claimed sexual abuse by someone in an authoritative position at Lackland, not including the women who may have remained silent about any sexual misconduct. Even consensual relationships between instructor and trainee can result in criminal charges.
The most serious charge involved a commander who was convicted of raping one of the trainees and sexually assaulting several other women in July. He will face 20 years in prison.
Three Democratic congresswomen met at Lackland last week to discuss stricter legislation against sexual violence in the military. Reps. Susan Davis, Loretta Sanchez and Jackie Speier of California met with officials at the base. The representatives spoke with current trainees and held a conference call with three of the estimated 40 victims. The lawmakers are considering several possible actions, including the establishment of a hotline for victims to call and report abuse, as well as making sexual abuse counselors more readily available to trainees.
“I think it’s great they hired a woman; gender is not an issue. However, I would think that they would hire a male because of all the violence that is occurring, but I’m glad that they’re not thinking that way. We shouldn’t deny women of being in the armed forces,” stated sophomore nursing major Jessie Sassaman.
“Something needs to be done about this; this type of violence should not exist at Lackland or anywhere, for that matter. People should get to work wherever they want without fear of being sexually violated,” Sassaman said.
Speier, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, stated to the Washington Post that she fears the military officers have been acting in their best interest by not reporting instances of misconduct, in order to continue the guise of moral sanctity. Speier has been trying to begin a congressional investigation of Lackland because of suspected military corruption in dealing with this issue.
UTSA freshman Marie Tangu believes that Liddick will be a great asset to Lackland. “She has to show them [men] that, although she is a woman, she was given that position, not because of her gender, but because of her qualifications.”