(Air Force Times by Markeshia Ricks) A servicewide sweep of all Air Force work spaces and public areas yielded more than 32,000 items that inspectors deemed to be inappropriate, offensive, unprofessional and even pornographic.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh ordered the inspection a month ago, emphasizing the need to stop sexual assaults and harassment in the workplace. Welsh told Air Force Times he had received multiple complaints about images, jokes and comments that made women and some men uncomfortable. The complaints indicated that many women felt they had to "go along to get along" with offensive images and comments if they wanted to steer clear of trouble.
"In my view, all of this stuff is connected. If we're going to get serious about things like sexual assault, we have to get serious about an environment that could lead to sexual harassment. In some way this stuff can all be linked," Welsh said Dec. 4. "I'm not saying every case is linked, but it could be linked, and why should we want to tolerate there even being a chance of that?"
The inspection came amid an ongoing sexual assault scandal at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, where to date at least 32 military training instructors have been investigated regarding misconduct with both male and female trainees. So far, six airmen have been convicted at court-martial, nine are awaiting court-martial, two have received nonjudicial punishment and 15 are actively being investigated in connection with misconduct at Lackland.
Though Welsh said the inspection wasn't "really a witch hunt," the sweep at more than 100 installations unearthed everything from the outrageous to the seemingly mundane.
Gen. Larry Spencer, Air Force vice chief of staff, said the inspection isn't a one-time thing, so airmen shouldn't get complacent and allow such materials to creep back in the work environment.
He said commanders have the discretion, but weren't required, to conduct such sweeps as often as they deemed necessary.
"Every airman deserves to be treated with respect," he said. "Every airman deserves to work in a professional environment."
Air Combat Command isn't the biggest Air Force major command, but when it comes to items that inspectors deemed inappropriate and unprofessional, it was far and away the biggest offender, with 18,174 items found - roughly one item for every four active-duty ACC members. Of those thousands of items, inspectors found more than 400 magazines they deemed inappropriate or offensive, mostly in workplace common areas, and they were removed, according to data provided by the Air Force.
They also found World War II-era nose art and lots of photos, stored on government computer systems, that were determined inappropriate.
ACC inspectors found five times more inappropriate items than were found at the next biggest offender, Air Force Materiel Command, where 3,223 items were found. The majority of the items at AFMC were digital media, images, videos and DVDs.
But the results of the inspection also show that inspectors might have used varying standards to decide what was offensive, inappropriate or pornographic.
Air Force-wide, inspectors only found 631 instances of pornography, more than half of which was found at the Air Education Training Command. At Pacific Air Forces, where inspectors gave more detail about what they viewed as pornography, there are several instances where Maxim magazine is identified as pornographic. The international men's magazine is known for featuring scantily clad women, but it doesn't feature them nude.
In some instances, signed posters of cheerleaders from USO tours, copies of health and fitness and running magazines and Air Force Times were deemed inappropriate for the workplace and removed.
Welsh said before the inspection began he wasn't looking for any criminal activity, but if it were found, it would be dealt with separately.
There are signs in the results that inspectors found material they believed needed further investigating, including three items found at Air Force headquarters. Inspectors provided no information about what the items were in the official results, but the items were referred to the Inspector General's office.
The chief of staff ordered that commanders "document and remove as contraband" logbooks and other written materials such as those that emphasize sexual or other inappropriate activity, as well as "lewd, obscene, or pornographic images or publications found anywhere in government work areas or common areas, in any form, on any media, whether commercially or individually produced."
Airmen described the inspections as unannounced.
"It felt as if it was a raid," said a senior airman who asked that his name not be used. "We were given no warning or direction on what was now deemed 'sexual and offensive.' One day it was perfectly OK to have a Men's Health magazine in the work area to try to get better 'Fit to Fight.' Then all of a sudden, it's almost a crime to have abs showing on a magazine.
"I agree that sexual assault is a horrible crime and that we need to protect our airmen. Men's Health is not to blame for sexual assault. The perpetrator is to blame. If we really want to get sexual assault completely out of our military, then we need to do better recruiting with psych exams and have more self-defense classes sponsored on base," the senior airman added.