Between 2007 and 2010, General Arthur Lichte was in charge of the Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base. He retired shortly thereafter. Now 67 years old, he faces a new issue. He has been accused of sexual assault on a subordinate during his time in command.
The demographics of the person making the accusation should not matter. In this case though, it is an example of two senior ranking officers, both of whom know how the military systems work, on very different sides of the report. With a four-star general being accused, the subordinate is a colonel.
In the more than 70 years since the Air Force became its own branch, not a single Air Force general has ever been prosecuted for crimes. That is not to say that Air Force generals have not been relieved or fired. In fact, the usual result of misconduct for generals of every branch is a reduction in rank and retirement at the lower rank. Usually that is a reduction to a one-star general, or if the situation occurred over a number of years, reduction to the rank prior to the event occurring, such as Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel.
Either way, in contrast to the enlisted side, the punishment seems to be significantly reduced and the full impact is significantly different on the long term effects of punishment. For general (retired) Lichte to be tried in a court-martial, he would have to be recalled to active duty. Retired commanders are still subject to the uniformed code of military justice (UCMJ). A general of higher rank, or in this case, more time-in-service would have to be appointed over him as the presiding officer. It would be difficult to find this, as four-star generals tend to have been in service in excess of 30 years.
It should also be noted that the last general to be charged in a court-martial was retired Army Major General David Hale in 1999. He was accused of lying to his superiors about affairs he was having, was charged $22,000 and reduced in rank to one-star general. The outcome of his punishment was a $9,000 reduction on his annual retirement pay.
It is for these reasons that congressional leaders are attempting to remove the convening authority position from the services for sexual misconduct, and to place them in impartial, civilian-controlled hands. This would reduce or remove the potential for misconduct to be overlooked based on influence or position.
While this case works its way out, the reality is that both the accused and accuser are familiar with the system and what effects this report will have. It is imperative that the military take as close a look at this instance as it would to any other, regardless of rank or experience of the accused. As it so happens, criminals do not concern themselves with age or position. Misconduct at any rank should be correctly and appropriately assessed, and if deemed accurate, prosecuted.
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