Air Force officials announced Friday that survival training taught at Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane and the Air Force Academy in Colorado will be overhauled after at least two cadets complained that the program’s sexual exploitation sequence went too far.
In 1991, the Air Force began the sexual exploitation phase of the “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” program at Fairchild, home to the Air Force Survival School.
Air Force brass started the training after 23 female and male U.S. soldiers captured by Iraqis in the Persian Gulf War said they had been sexually assaulted and harassed.
The academy, located near Colorado Springs, began requiring the training in 1993.
In an interview with ABC’s “20/20” news show Friday, two cadets who underwent sexual exploitation training at the academy said it went too far.
A 21-year-old female cadet at the academy told ABC producers she was grabbed by a male cadet, forced onto a table in a small room, and had some of her clothing removed by another male cadet who stood between her legs to simulate rape.
The woman, who requested anonymity, said she was terrified and humiliated during the training.
“I was kicking and screaming and cursing and telling them to get off of me and screaming for help,” she told “20/20”.
The rape scenario ended only after the woman kicked one of the male cadets in the groin. The cadet later told the ABC news show he might not have stopped otherwise.
Col. John Chapman, who oversees the Air Force’s SERE training and until last July headed up the 336th Training Group at Fairchild, told “20/20” that cadets can immediately stop their mock attackers by calling for a “flight surgeon.”
“While I was in that room, that was the last thing on my mind,” the female cadet said. “I was merely concerned with how far this was going to go and I hoped that it would stop soon.”
Christian Polintan, 19, a male cadet who since has left the academy, said he was dressed in women’s clothing and paraded around camp in 1993. He said a trainer removed his skirt and instructed another cadet to mount him.
“He (the instructor) told me to bend over the table. I was just in shock of what they were doing. I could not believe it was happening to me,” Polintan said. When the simulated sex assault ended, he said, “A lot of things were going through my mind. I wanted to kill myself.”
Col. Larry Strube, commander of the 336th Training Group at Fairchild, said Friday he has received no such complaints from students who have gone through the program at Fairchild.
“The good news is the training that we do here is not the basis of that story,” Strube said.
Nearly 2,600 Air Force personnel take the sexual exploitation class as part of survival training at Fairchild each year, Strube said.
“To keep it in context, (the sexual exploitation class) is one hour in a 17-day training schedule,” he said.
The class is designed to teach military personnel how to resist being sexually abused or assaulted if they are captured in combat by teaching techniques similar to those taught at private rape prevention seminars, the colonel said.
Role-playing - where students and instructors act out situations where abuse may occur - is part of the training, Strube added.
In a statement released Friday, the academy announced plans to use videotapes in classrooms rather than role play among cadets. Also under consideration is role play “in a classroom setting … with instructors performing … any live demonstrations.”
A full-time psychologist and two technicians “who will provide continuous on-site support during the SERE training” also will be added, the academy said.
Role-playing will continue to be a part of the training at Fairchild, Strube said, although some parts of it will be toned down and a video will be incorporated.
“This is a sensitive area,” he said. “The purpose of this is to train the individual and not traumatize them.”
Current role-playing at Fairchild is supervised by an instructor and in full view of about 50 students, most of whom are older and more mature than academy cadets, Strube said.
“That strikes me as pretty good oversight,” he said.
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