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The War Within

As America prepares to invade Iraq, female Air Force cadets wage their own battle.

Jessica decided to get a second opinion from Paul Isenstadt, a licensed clinical social worker in Colorado Springs. During two May interviews with her, Isenstadt noted that Jessica "was clearly oriented in all spheres and evidenced no sign of a thought disorder. Her memory, both recent and remote, appeared intact. Overall affect appeared appropriate. There was noted to be some intensity in mood and some pattern of excitability which might be consistent with histrionic traits which were identified by Dr. DeSantis.

"However, her style is to throw herself into activities and receive her validation through education, sports and relationships. This has always been her way of compensating for some of the severe rejection and abuse she experienced as a child," Isenstadt continued. "Although it is noted that this may be patterned behavior and considered by some to evidence what is referred to as a personality disorder, it does not appear to this evaluator that it should preclude her from her ability to achieve in the Air Force Academy academic environment." Isenstadt also recommended that she receive counseling.

Later that month, the academy's three-member medical review board met to discuss Jessica's case. In their report, the officers acknowledged DeSantis's diagnosis and added that Jessica "has demonstrated a pervasive pattern of very inappropriate and serious behaviors, exhibited in multiple settings, toward multiple individuals, and which deviate markedly from the behavior expected of a military officer. This is not something that would improve from further observation, or from a squadron change. The Board recommends disenrollment."

Jessica didn't help her situation any by getting into another fight with new boyfriend Allen Mirkadyrov, whom she'd begun dating in April. In late May, she went to Allen's dorm room, where they got into an argument over Allen's friendship with her ex-boyfriend. The argument turned physical and was so loud that some of Allen's squadron mates called police. Allen initially accused Jessica of hitting him, throwing things at him and threatening to kill him, and Jessica was arrested on assault and domestic-violence charges. She received a letter of reprimand on June 26 in which she was ordered not to have any further contact with Allen and to receive immediate counseling. In August, she received another letter from Brigadier General Taco Gilbert stating that he was beginning discharge procedures and that she had a right to first present her case to a hearing officer, which Jessica chose to do.

Shortly after the 2002 school year began, Jessica started attending a sexual-assault support group on base; she says CASIE program manager Gorton persuaded her to report her allegation for record-keeping purposes. And so on August 21 -- two years after the rape and three months after her alleged attacker graduated from the academy -- she filed a report. (Because he was never charged with anything and no public proceedings were held in the case, Kevin's name was changed to protect his identity.)

Before her hearing, Jessica started collecting numerous letters of recommendation from professors, friends and former employers. Andree Krause, district director for former congressman Dan Schaefer, wrote that "Jessica was one of our finer student staff members, which is evidenced by the fact that she was brought back to work with us several times. This would not have happened if any member of our staff found her to be difficult to work with in any way. Her work, which dealt heavily with our constituents, was exemplary. I certainly commend her most highly to you and ask that she not be removed from the academy."

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Lemp, who taught a fine-arts course that Jessica took, noted that her "conduct has been exemplary and she has attended to all duties conscientiously. In spite of the stress that she has experienced because of the possibility of disenrollment, she has nonetheless studied well, and her last graded review was a clear improvement over the first one in the course."

And George Pregel, the counseling director at the Air Force Academy Prep School who had helped Jessica when her grades started to suffer, suggested that her behavior might have had something to do with being sexually assaulted. "All one has to do is read our sponsored literature at the hospital, library, Social Actions, etc.," he wrote to the academy. "This literature tells us what to expect from people with her background and how we can help keep them in the Air Force."

On September 9, Jessica finally had a chance to state her own case for retention. Allen was the first to testify, and he admitted that he was as much to blame for the fight as she was. According to a transcript of the hearing, Allen told the officer, "We were both in it, Sir. Physical contact was there. I won't deny we were both involved in it."

Hearing officer: Did you push her?

Allen: I may have pushed her later.

Hearing officer: Did she push you?

Allen: Probably. It happened pretty fast. I don't really remember a lot of the detail, but we were both in physical contact. Like I said earlier, I wouldn't characterize it as anything unusual. People have that kind of stuff all the time. I've seen it here at the academy.

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