Charges against ousted Scott Air Force Base commander Col. John Howard indicate that he was accused of sexual misconduct at or near at least two separate military bases over more than a year.
The 18th Air Force released the charges Monday.
The first charge dates back to the summer of 2016 between July 1 and Sept. 16, when a senior airman claims Howard rubbed his groin against the airman's torso and made sexually explicit comments at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in the United Kingdom, an Air Force base roughly 80 miles northeast of London.
The charge does not specify whether the airman is male or female, though other charges reference a female alleged victim.
On Sept. 17 that same year, a senior airman accused Howard of making additional sexually explicit comments, saying "every time I see you, there it is," referring to his erection.
Another charge stems from April 2017, when a female senior airman claims Howard committed a sexual act upon her without her consent at or near Bangor, Maine, where there is an Air National Guard Base.
Two additional charges accuse Howard of fraternization and conduct unbecoming an officer between March 2016 and November 2017.
Those charges don't specify the location of the alleged misconduct, only saying they were "in the Northern Hemisphere."
Names are redacted in the charges, so it wasn't clear whether there was more than one accuser involved in the case.
Howard took command of the 375th Air Mobility Wing at Scott Air Force Base in July 2017, but none of the charges specifically indicate any alleged abuse happened at the base in Southern Illinois.
Howard served as vice commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing at Mildenhall from July 2015 to July 2017, according to his Air Force biography, which has since been removed from Scott AFB's website. Two years is the usual term of service at a base for a member of the Air Force.
Howard's biography shows no record of his serving at the Maine base.
Howard was commander of the 375th Air Mobility Wing until December, when the commander of the 18th Air Force replaced him, saying he lost confidence in Howard’s ability to lead the wing. Col. Leslie Maher was named the new commander of 375th Air Mobility Wing in March.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has been investigating the case since December.
A document instructing Air Force public affairs personnel on how to handle media inquiries into the case was leaked on social media Tuesday. Capt. Ryan DeCamp, a spokesman for the 18th Air Force, verified the authenticity of the document.
The "public affairs guidance" document listed possible questions members of the media might ask:
- Why does the military continue to have sexual assault problems? When cases of sexual assault are reported, they are investigated thoroughly to ensure we establish an environment of dignity and respect, where sexual harassment or assault is not tolerated, and where there is clear accountability placed on all leaders at every level. We are committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for all service members, civilians and family members.
- Why was Col. Howard relieved of his command if he hasn't been found guilty of a crime? A wing commander can be removed at any time when a senior commander in the chain of command feels a change of leadership is best for the wing's Airmen and their mission. Airmen are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
- What is the maximum punishment associated with these charges? If tried and convicted, the court will consider the facts and circumstances of the case when determining an appropriate sentence. The maximum authorized punishment for two specifications (charges) of cruelty and maltreatment, two specifications of sexual assault, one specification of conduct unbecoming an officer and one specification of fraternization is dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 68 years. The maximum authorized sentence would be based on whether Colonel Howard is found guilty of all offenses. Please note that for an officer, a "dismissal" is the equivalent of a "dishonorable discharge."
The document also listed talking points for public affairs personnel:
- "The Air Force takes allegations of sexual misconduct by any Airman seriously, investigates the allegations fully, and takes appropriate action when warranted."
- "The alleged behavior is not in line with our core values. The Air Force holds individuals accountable for their actions, through the Uniformed (sic) Code of Military Justice."
- "The presumption of innocence is the bedrock of American justice, and Airmen are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."
A public preliminary hearing is set for July 6, when a preliminary-hearing officer will review the charges and evidence, according to DeCamp.