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On the Prowl

Cadets call it the Zoo.

And recently their pet name for the United States Air Force Academy has become remarkably apropos, as more and more of our future military leaders are found to be acting like animals.

In the early hours of July 20, Colorado Springs police were alerted to a possible sexual assault in a parking lot. When police arrived, they discovered a drunk, semiconscious civilian woman in the back of a pickup truck that belonged to a male cadet. The cadet was not arrested, but the Colorado Springs District Attorney's office is investigating the case. That same weekend, a female cadet accused a different male cadet of sexually assaulting her. The academy's Office of Special Investigations is looking into that allegation.

The latter case is the first time the academy's new "response team" has been activated, says AFA spokesman John Van Winkle. In the past, sexual-assault victims could call a cadet-run hotline and receive on-base counseling without having to formally report the incident. But after numerous cadets went public about having been sexually assaulted and then either ignored or punished by academy authorities -- since January, sixty women have contacted Senator Wayne Allard's office alone -- Air Force Secretary James Roche began requiring all sexual assault allegations to be formally investigated. The response team includes the new vice commandant of cadets, Colonel Debra Gray, academy investigators, the cadet counseling center, the academy's police and security force, the 10th medical group and a chaplain.

Two weeks ago, another female cadet testified against Lieutenant Ronen Segal, who graduated from the academy in 2002. Segal was charged with raping, sodomizing and providing alcohol to the young woman, who is currently a sophomore at the academy. Her testimony came at an Article 32 hearing, which determines whether there's enough evidence to convene a court-martial; the decision to forward it to a military trial is pending.

Yet another male cadet accused of raping and sodomizing a female cadet asked to resign rather than face a court-martial. New commandant of cadets Brigadier General Johnny Weida ordered the court-martial for Douglas Meester, a sophomore cadet whom freshman Justine Parks had accused of assaulting her after they had both been drinking and making out in his dorm room last year ("The War Within," January 30) -- even though the Article 32 hearing officer recommended against it, saying there was insufficient evidence. Meester's resignation request now rests with Roche.

And last week, the academy announced that a court-martial has been scheduled for Seth Tuatoo, a junior who was charged in April with using cocaine. Tuatoo was set to have an Article 32 on May 8, but he waived the hearing and will now face court-martial on August 6. Other investigations of cadets are currently under way at the academy, although Van Winkle declined to say how many cadets are being scrutinized, or for what.

 
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