When a military court launched an investigation into allegations that Air Force instructor Luis Walker sexually assaulted 10 female recruits at Lackland Air Force Base, the nonprofit Protect Our Defenders jumped into action. They created a Lackland Air Force Base petition on Causes.com asking the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), specifically chairman Buck McKeon, to hold public hearings about how the military handles such cases. Since launching the petition, Protect Our Defenders acquired and delivered more than 10,000 signatures to Congress (8,000 from Causes and another 3,000 from their own website) demanding a public and open hearing regarding the events at Lackland AFB. Cause leader Brian Purchia talked to us about the beginnings of his petition, the current state of the campaign, and what he hopes will be accomplished in the end.
Brian felt outrage after hearing about the allegations against Luis Walker. He knew this wasn’t a unique occurrence. There have been wide reports of rampant sexual assault in the military for at least two decades and now was the time to tell the world about it. That’s when Brian and Protect Our Defenders came into play. “As the scope of the Lackland [Air Force Base] scandal began to unfold, and the combined lack of action from the House Armed Services Committee, Protect Our Defenders was talking to survivors and we decided we must do something.”
More than 10,000 signatures were delivered to Congress
On July 20, a military court found Luis Walker guilty of sexual assault and he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Yet, Congress’ discussions about how they would protect recruits were taking place behind closed-doors. This wasn’t sufficient for Brian and his team. ”It is time for our elected officials that have been put in charge of oversight of our armed services to do their job. Lackland is just the tip of the iceberg – the most current example of a much larger problem. Of course, the Air Force must investigate and prosecute the few cases that have actually been reported, but that won’t fix the broken system.”
A surge of pressure has come from two significant partners. Protect Our Defenders collaborated on crafting their petition with Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, a sexual assault survivor from the infamous “Tailhook scandal” of 1991, and they also invited other brave survivors to call out Congress’ inaction. Brian said, “[Paula] went thru (sic) this more than 20 years ago and asked her if she’d be willing to start a campaign calling for a Lackland hearing. She was all in. Nothing has changed in 20 years: the epidemic has only gotten worse.”
Another big supporter is Congresswoman Rep. Jackie Speier, who has been pushing her peers to reveal more about the case to the public. Last month, The Nation cited her as asking, “How could such a repetitive widespread and sickening behavior still be occurring?”
Two days ago, the military relieved Col. Glenn Palmer of his duties. He was the top commander overseeing basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. It is a move signifying the steady victory for accountability and a triumph over ineptitude. Yet, Brian’s sights are set on that one, monumental, goal. “Honestly, we want [Rep. Buck McKeon] to be a leader… We want him to join his 87 other colleagues that have called for a hearing [and] say this is unacceptable and that Congress will get to the bottom of this horrific scandal to make sure it does not affect any more of our men and women in uniform.”
It’s estimated that 19,000 servicemen and women were sexually assaulted in 2010. Do you believe they should be protected? Tell us in the comments.
You can still sign the Protect Our Defenders petition here or send a tweet directly to Rep. Buck McKeon asking him to hold a public, Congressional hearing. Brian says they’ll gather as many signatures as possible until Congress holds a hearing.