Released: Jun 6, 1997
WASHINGTON Any proposed legislation that separates basic training by gender would be a major step backward, countering 50 years of social progress in the Air Force, the commander of Air Education And Training Command told a Senate panel June 5.
"The dichotomy of separate but equal simply does not work," Gen. Lloyd W. "Fig" Newton told members of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel. "Ultimately, we must form a single Air Force team composed of both men and women. And the best way to accomplish this is to start on day one."
Newton's comments came during a session on "gender-integrated military training." He told lawmakers that since the Air Force began integrated enlisted training in 1976, more than 2.1 million male and female enlisted recruits have trained side by side in basic and follow-on technical training.
"Members of those initial graduating classes now constitute our senior enlisted grades, and today they are performing exceptionally well," Newton said.
"The single most important element in our basic training process is the military training instructor," Newton said. "We mint our MTIs very carefully. The MTIs live the standards we expect our young recruits to meet."
Newton said that there are some who would like to see the military change "a system that has withstood the test of time."
At issue is the problem of sexual harassment, and although the problem exists in American society, the Air Force has been successful in creating a training environment and service culture that effectively address the issue, Newton said.
Recruits learn from the start Air Force's "zero tolerance" policy on sexual harassment and receive several briefings on related Air Force policies -- including discrimination -- and are made aware of all avenues available to file complaints, according to Newton.
He pointed out that in the past four years, there have been just four confirmed incidents of sexual harassment leveled against MTIs at Lackland Air Force, Texas. All four MTIs were "removed from duty and punished appropriately," he said.
"I assure you these isolated breaches of faith are the exception, and they do not paint a true picture of our professional MTI corps," he said.
Before considering any changes to gender integrated training, Newton encouraged lawmakers to visit Lackland Air Force Base to see the operation and talk directly to recruits and MTIs.
He guaranteed they would be pleased with the results of such a visit.