By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday sent an email to every recruit who attended basic or technical training at a Texas base over the past decade to encourage them to report sexual misconduct, following the worst sex scandal within the military in years.
An Air Force official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed the email was sent to some 300,000 active-duty and former Air Force personnel urging them to report "sexual assaults, sexual misconduct or unprofessional relationships."
Reuters received copies of the email from two sources.
"Please call and help us to eradicate sexual misconduct in the Air Force," the email says, adding a hotline phone number set up at the Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, which oversees all Air Force training activities.
Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio is the scene of the largest military sex scandal in a dozen years.
Five training instructors, the drill sergeants who train young recruits during an intense two-month program, have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from sexual misconduct to sexual assault.
A sixth is awaiting court martial, and another 13 are under investigation, according to Lackland officials.
The charges so far involve incidents that have occurred only in the past four years. During a visit to Lackland three weeks ago, U.S. Representative Jackie Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said she was told the problem of improper relationships between female recruits and male trainers goes back a decade.
"It is a good sign that the Air Force is broadening its investigation of the Lackland sex abuse scandal by contacting airmen and airwomen who went through training at the base as far back as 10 years ago," Speier said on Tuesday.
"Some instructors at Lackland were getting away with sexual misconduct because their victims and peers were too scared of retaliation to report the crimes," she said.
Protect Our Defenders, the activist group that helped uncover the Air Force sex scandal, said the action is welcome but does not go far enough.
"The scandal at Lackland was not the result of just a few bad apples," Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish said. "Until commanders who fail to take strong effective action have their careers ended and the (Defense Department) installs effective investigation, prosecution, and victim protection, there will be too little, if any, real improvement."
(Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)