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Air Force's Approach to Ending Sexual Harassment
Statement as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall , Senate Armed Services Committee, Tuesday, February 04, 1997

Defense Issues: Volume 12, Number 10-- Air Force's Approach to Ending Sexual Harassment Commanders must demonstrate visible, unequivocal leadership and personal commitment to equal opportunity, and build an organizational culture where members are valued, respected and treated fairly.


Volume 12, Number 10

Air Force's Approach to Ending Sexual Harassment

Prepared statement by Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 4, 1997.


It is important to understand the framework with which the Air Force approaches sexual harassment. The Air Force is absolutely committed to creating an environment in which all our people, whatever their gender or race or ethnic origin, can work free of harassment or discrimination. There is, of course, an equity issue here: We must ensure that our people enjoy the same rights and opportunities open to all Americans.

Within the military context, however, there is another, equally important consideration: the absolute need to build cohesion and a sense of community across our ranks. Nothing destroys military effectiveness more quickly than division in the ranks.

The success of our missions depends in large measure on the degree of trust and understanding that exists among the people in our units. Anything that might erode that trust is just not tolerable. So we have long held a zero tolerance policy toward discrimination of any kind. This is a logical and necessary measure. We will maintain it, and we will enforce it. We will ensure that our people are treated with the human respect and dignity that they deserve.

We have taken a series of aggressive steps that may not seem to be related to this issue, but in fact are the heart of an effective approach.


  • We have emphasized commandership, selection and education for command, commander responsibilities and personal accountability.
  • We have continually articulated core values to internalize for all of our people the essence of the standards of the military professional.
  • We revised the Air Force instruction on professional and unprofessional relationships to make clear the inherent conflict of interest in fraternization and other unprofessional relationships.
  • We have paid particular attention to the special trust and responsibilities that go with the student-teacher or trainer-trainee relationship.

Between May 1994 and April 1995, I co-chaired, with Mr. [Edwin] Dorn [undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness] the DoD Task Force on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment in the Military. During that time, we held over 20 meetings with members from many elements of our military establishment. In the end, we developed 48 recommendations for strengthening the U.S. military's efforts in this key area and defined five principles for framing our efforts.

We keyed our recommendations toward bringing the strength of the military services to bear upon this issue -- the focus on leadership, accountability and responsibility, core values, care for people, the emphasis on training and education across all ranks and career fields. In getting to the core of this issue, we are not just attacking sexual harassment, we are building a better military force for a more complex world.

We have not eliminated all incidents nor will we ever. But what is more important is how the organization responds to such incidents when they occur.

The Air Force has set high standards, and we have taken action to enforce those standards. The principles established by the DoD task force on sexual harassment and discrimination, and Air Force actions to implement them are presented below.

Commanders' demonstrated leadership and personal commitment to equal opportunity must be visible and unequivocal. Further, commanders are expected to communicate standards of professional conduct and build an organizational culture where members are valued, respected and treated fairly. The most effective way of ensuring accountability in military organizations is to give commanders the direct responsibility for managing the discrimination complaints system.

Gen. [Ronald R.] Fogleman [Air Force chief of staff] and I sent a joint message to the field on command responsibilities in November 1995. In that message we stated: "Any conduct, in any unit, which creates a disadvantage based on race, ethnicity or gender will not be tolerated. Malicious or inappropriate behavior as well as different training standards cannot be permitted. Any indications that such behavior is occurring within a unit will prompt an immediate investigation. Those responsible for such actions as well as commanders who fail to correct these problems will be held accountable."

Gen. Fogleman has outlined four pass/fail items for Air Force leaders. His fourth rule is: "We will not tolerate any religious, ethnic, sexual or racial harassment. Period. ... There are several reasons for this. One, it's the right thing to do. Two, it's the law of the land. The third is more fundamental. We cannot expect people to achieve their maximum potential in an environment where harassment or prejudice exists. While we're reducing resources, to include people, every person has got to be in a work environment where they can achieve their full potential."

Air Education and Training Command is responsible for training and setting standards for people first entering the Air Force. Gen. Billy Boles, AETC/CC [commander], held a video teleconference with all AETC commanders, reiterating Air Force policy regarding sexual harassment and stressing the trust relationship between instructors and trainees. Previously, he had issued several messages to AETC commanders reiterating the Air Force's sexual harassment policy. He also instituted a Student Bill of Rights card (pocket size) to be given upon arrival at basic military training, Officer Training School and AF [Air Force] Reserve Officer Training Course detachments, and to newly arrived students at technical training schools.

In November 1996, Gen. Boles sent a message to his subordinate commanders, instructors, students, recruiters and new recruits on professional and unprofessional relationships. His message stated, "Successful accomplishment of the AETC education and training mission demands that every aspect of every instructor/student and recruiter/recruit relationship be professional and beyond reproach. Every AETC campus, classroom and office must be a safe place to live, learn and work. This requires maintaining stricter standards of professional conduct and behavior than any normal supervisory relationship. I expect you to take all necessary steps to make sure this message reaches and is understood by every member of this command. ..."

I recently wrote to all of our commanders in the field asking three questions:


  • How had they implemented the policy of zero tolerance toward sexual harassment?;
  • What steps had they taken to ensure the message is being received by all personnel in their wings?; and
  • What efforts had they taken to implement the policy on unprofessional relationships?

The replies provide a look at the commitment of the individual commanders in the field and the steps that they have taken to address these issues at their bases. It is clear to me that they are personally engaged.

The Air Force has built a unit climate assessment program to help commanders assess their organization's human relations climate. The equal opportunity staff conducts Unit Climate Assessments six months after a commander assumes command, every two years and upon request from the commander. The UCA Program has been in place since 1981.

Wing commanders are required to hold Wing Climate Assessment Committee meetings at least twice a year to evaluate the overall human relations climate.

In December [19]96, we polled numbered Air Force and wing commanders to assess the effectiveness of how they were conveying the policies on sexual harassment and unprofessional relationships to the lowest levels. As a result of commanders' comments, we believe our communication of the policies to be extremely effective at every echelon of command. We also found that our commanders remain vigilant in their efforts to address, resolve and prevent sexual harassment.

We track nonjudicial and judicial punishment actions against military members who have violated the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] through our data base system the Automated Military Justice Analysis and Management System. Since August 1992, AMJAMS has included a special code to identify offenses that constitute sexual harassment.

Our installation staff judge advocates are tasked with administering our Victim Witness Assistance Program and assessing the effectiveness of their local programs. These self-inspection systems generally include questionnaires sent to victims and witnesses soliciting their opinions regarding the assistance they received. Headquarters-level legal offices are required to examine the program effectiveness of installation VWAPs and submit an annual report to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Gen. Fogleman and I, with our supporting staffs, regularly visit our units to ensure that they can accomplish their mission and to ensure that we have a solid understanding of the issues our commanders face. Clearly the human relations climate at these bases is a major element of these visits. Our staff element responsible for ensuring equal opportunity has visited 50 AF installations and conducted numerous focus group discussions with military and civilian personnel at each location.

The Defense Department must establish goals and standards. However, since the services differ in mission and organization, equal opportunity programs in the individual military services will be effective only if they are incorporated into service professional military education programs, investigatory structures and procedures, disciplinary structures and command responsibilities.

Correspondence from the deputy assistant secretary of defense (equal opportunity) applauded Gen. Fogleman for his initiatives in the area of equal opportunity; establishing additional manpower authorizations, emphasizing that discrimination and sexual harassment will not be tolerated and implementing mandatory human relations training. This communication stated: "Your chief did an outstanding job of connecting equal opportunity with readiness. ... He stepped out smartly in this vital area."

In addition to being the only service with a full-time enlisted equal opportunity adviser career field, the CSAF [Air Force chief of staff], in October 1993, directed realignment of Air Force Social Actions office from the Mission Support Squadron to the wing commander's staff. The realignment was essential to provide and ensure direct program emphasis and oversight, increase the visibility of the program and improve the wing commander's ability to respond to equal opportunity issues affecting readiness. Our Air Force EOT officers and technicians are assigned these duties on a full-time basis. They are responsible for advising commanders on EO [equal opportunity] issues and managing EO programs for the commander.

We published an AFPAM [Air Force Pamphlet] 36-2705, Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, February 1995, and distributed it to all military and civilian members. This pamphlet provided an overview of the EO complaint system. This document was designed to supplement existing formal Air Force policy directives.

We also communicate through use of Desk Reminder Cards. The DRCs contain the definitions of unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment. These small, pocket-size cards provide a convenient reference for our people to refer to at work or at home.

Clear and concise written policies are necessary to ensure that military personnel know that discrimination and harassment are forbidden, how to recognize these offenses, how to file complaints, how to prevent reprisal and that the rights of all involved will be protected.

The Air Force has developed policies and procedures to improve the effectiveness of our equal opportunity and treatment programs and to create an environment of mutual respect in our service. These policy statements take a series of forms: Air Force policy directives, Air Force instructions, Air Force pamphlets and messages to the field. In addition, wing and unit commanders at all levels publish policy letters on discrimination and sexual harassment. The major documents defining our policies in this area include:


  • August 1994, Air Force Policy Directive 36-27, Social Actions Program, provides policy guidance regarding unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment.
  • August 1994, CSAF message to ALMAJCOM/CCs [all major command commanders], Sexual Harassment, stated, "It is clear that our policy is zero tolerance."
  • February 1995, Gen. Fogleman and I directed the development of AFPAM 36-2705, Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, for distribution to all Air Force personnel.
  • November 1995, Gen. Fogleman and I reiterated policy in an all major air command message titled "Command Responsibilities, Any Conduct, in Any Unit, Which Creates a Disadvantage Based on Race, Ethnicity or Gender Will Not be Tolerated."
  • October 1996, I approved the revised Air Force Instruction 36-2706, Military Equal Opportunity and Treatment Program. This instruction implements recommendations from the Defense Equal Opportunity Council Task Force on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment.
  • AFI 36-2909, Professional and Unprofessional Relationships, was revised in 1996 not to implement any policy changes, but to clarify and reinforce the customs and the standards of conduct for maintaining professional relationships in the Air Force. Commanders have also established policy letters regarding this subject, which are posted throughout the squadrons. Policy regarding unprofessional relationships is aggressively reinforced and emphasized at all levels of the Air Force.

Equal opportunity and human relations training should be incorporated into career development education for all personnel throughout their careers. In addition, persons involved in complaints handling should be given specialized training. Training for leaders and commanders should stress their personal involvement and accountability in the management of EO programs.

We fully support equal opportunity education and training initiatives for our people at all levels and throughout their careers. Additionally, we are committed to consistently reviewing and improving our educational programs, thus ensuring we address the most current issues. We have developed effective initial, specialized and continuing education programs as discussed below.

Since the inception of EOT and Human Relations Education programs in the early '70s, race/human relations education has been the cornerstone of our EO program efforts. Air Force members receive sexual harassment training from the beginning, whether entering from basic military training, Air Force ROTC, USAF Academy or Officer Training School. The human relations course provides the EOT focus, to include how to report sexual assault, prevention measures and examples/definitions of sexual harassment/sexual assault.

Our basic military training students are issued a student Bill of Rights wallet-size card. This student Bill of Rights card addresses fair treatment, accountability, professionalism and lists telephone numbers for squadron commanders, the EO office, the IG [inspector general] and the hotline for unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment. Students can use the hotline to pose questions or report violations. The card is issued again when airmen begin technical training.

During technical flight training, airmen receive human relations instruction and formal handouts on diversity.

The Air Force is the only service with a full-time, separate and dedicated enlisted equal opportunity career field, drawn from volunteers who retrain from other career fields. They must be E-5 or above. These personnel are awarded a three-level specialty code by DEOMI [Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute] upon completion of the 15-week, in-residence course. All EOT officers and enlisted personnel are required to attend the DEOMI in-residence course.

Our three-week, service-specific training is also included in the DEOMI 15-week course. It includes one week of instructor training conducted by the Academic Instructor School to ensure our people are qualified and knowledgeable in the various methods of instruction. In addition, DCS [deputy chief of staff for] personnel incorporated the military equal opportunity program as part of the Air Force personnel officer career field. Around the five-year mark, some personnel officers move into the wing EO office.

In the early 1970s, the Air Force provided in-depth race relations education to all military personnel and civilian employees using full-time qualified Defense Race Relations Institute, now called DEOMI, instructors.

Sexual Harassment Awareness Education classes were subsequently developed to address the issues of sexual harassment in the Air Force. In May [19]82, the Air Force became the first service to institute mandatory SHAE classes for all personnel. Sexual harassment education was incorporated into AF HRE courses in June 1984. The curriculum was taught at accession points (BMTS, ROTC, USAF Academy, OTS, OCS) as well as in professional military education for officer and enlisted personnel.

In November 1994, we initiated a Senior Executive Equal Opportunity Seminar for our most senior civilian and military leaders at the Pentagon. This intensive, two-day session covered the gamut of equal opportunity issues, including sexual harassment. We held five of these seminars in the ensuing year and a half at which 120 of our senior leaders were trained. We also included in March 1995 a similar two-day session for our Senior Leader Orientation Course for new members of the Senior Executive Service and new brigadier generals.

We continue to emphasize training. At the direction of the CSAF, every AF military and civilian member is receiving an additional four hours of training in human relations. The four-hour EO 2000 Awareness Course focuses on roles and responsibilities of commanders, supervisors and subordinates when responding to issues involving sexual harassment, subtle discrimination and extremist group activities. This effort complements training already received at every level, from initial training to professional military education, supervisor training and commanders courses. We believe this emphasis on training is key to maintaining a healthy human relations climate. We have therefore conducted a series of reviews to ensure our programs remain effective. These have included:


  • In 1986/87, we updated and revised our HRE curricula and programs to incorporate all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment. When requested by unit commanders, our EO technicians also provided special seminars on discrimination and sexual harassment.
  • In July 1992, CSAF directed all commanders to review their EO programs including all formal training courses and commissioning programs to ensure equal opportunity and sexual harassment issues were being addressed at the different phase points in enlisted and officer PME courses and other appropriate schools, i.e., First Sergeants Academy, etc.
  • In March 1994, SECAF [secretary of the Air Force] directed a bottom-up review of all AETC, AU [Air University] and USAFA [Air Force Academy] formal training courses and commissioning programs to re-emphasize and determine the extent equal opportunity/sexual harassment education issues were being incorporated and taught at accession points, PME and other appropriate courses.

Gen. Fogleman's March 8, 1995, message directed all Air Force personnel to attend a four-hour EO-2000 Awareness course. This course focuses on roles and responsibilities of commanders, supervisors and subordinates when responding to issues involving sexual harassment, subtle discrimination and extremist group activities.

An independent contractor evaluated the four-hour EO-2000 Awareness course currently being taught. Results were positive. A recent survey noted that the course clearly impacted AF members' assessment of the EO-related roles and behaviors of co-workers, supervisors and commanders.

Sexual harassment, ethics, unprofessional relationships and commanders' responsibilities are addressed in the wing and group commanders' courses, JAG [judge advocate general] courses and First Sergeants Academy.

Discrimination complaints systems should provide for prompt resolution at the lowest appropriate level and be designed to prevent reprisals. In addition, support services should be made available to complainants and respondents as part of the complaints handling process. Finally, each proven offender should receive an appropriate sanction for the offense.

AFI 36-2706 implements Department of Defense Directive 1350.2, Military Equal Opportunity Program, Aug. 18, 1995, and the Defense Equal Opportunity Council task force recommendations, May 1995. This directive contains guidance to include the complaint processing procedures and grievance channels and processes, procedures and responsibilities of commanders and personnel to resolve complaints at the lowest level. The AFI delineates responsibilities as follows:


  • The responsibilities of the wing commander are to provide an environment free from discrimination and harassment, review all closed discrimination cases monthly.
  • Unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment cases involving senior officials, general officers and SES equivalents are immediately forwarded and reported to the AF inspector general in the Office of the Secretary [of the Air Force]. Cases involving colonels or colonel selects must also be reported to the IG.
  • Reprisal complaints are immediately referred to the IG. Reprisal protection is mandated by law, DoD directive and AF instruction.

The Air Force inspector general fraud, waste and abuse hot line has always been available to accept and investigate concerns expressed by Air Force members. The establishment of the Headquarters Air Force Personnel Center sexual harassment "1-800" hot line reinforces the Air Force's commitment to investigate equal opportunity and treatment complaints. The sexual harassment hotline was established as a result of the DEOC Task Force recommendations and has been operational approximately two years (January 1995). The hot line is staffed by qualified EOT personnel. We have received 337 calls since Nov. 13, 1996, including 36 calls from active duty members.

SECAF memorandum, Feb. 21, 1995, to ALMAJCOM commanders changed the investigative process for senior officials. Effective July 1, 1995, all investigative efforts are conducted by a central cadre of investigators assigned to the staff of the AF inspector general. This process includes unlawful discrimination and sexual harassment complaints. This change ensures credibility in the Air Force senior official investigative process and incorporates consistency and standardization of adverse administrative actions when such actions are required.

July 1995, SECAF and CSAF strengthened the independence of the inspector general system by directing the implementation of full-time IG positions at every major Air Force installation in lieu of additional duty IGs.

Detailed program guidance for the Air Force Victim and Witness Assistance Program was established by AFI 51-201, Administration of Military Justice (Sept. 1, 1996). Included in this guidance are requirements concerning victims' rights, services provided to witnesses, notification procedures for victims and witnesses, VWAP training, VWAP inspections and reporting requirements.

The judge advocate general is the Air Force official responsible for coordinating, implementing and managing the Air Force VWAP. Each Air Force installation has a local responsible official, normally the installation staff judge advocate, who is among other things responsible for identifying victims and witnesses of crimes and providing VWAP services consistent with the requirements of AFI 51-201.

AFOSI [Air Force Office of Special Investigations] is bound by the provisions of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982. Agents will advise victims/witnesses of available services that emergency medical and social service agencies or family support centers provide. If applicable, they will also explain the options available for protection from harassment or intimidation and assist in obtaining these services through military or civilian channels.

OSI personnel also assist victims and witnesses in contacting the local SJA office's victim/witness advocate. Throughout the investigative process, agents serve as a point of contact to answer questions on the status of the case, provided it does not interfere with the ongoing investigation. ...

Over many years, the Air Force has recognized the threat that sexual harassment poses to our combat effectiveness. We have aggressively attacked that problem, with encouraging results. But even with all our success to date, clearly this is an issue that demands constant attention. Gen. Fogleman and I are giving it exactly that attention -- as are commanders throughout the Air Force. We are proud of our efforts and determined to sustain them.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at