A Pentagon investigation has found an alarming rise in misconduct at military academies. Leadership and behavior must be addressed, particularly in light of an increase in assaults, the report noted. It follows a second report earlier this year that found one in five female recruits had experienced assault from males, including rape, and reported attacks were up 18%. Most of these reports came from Naval academies.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said increases in assaults on female cadets were “disturbing and unacceptable. It endangers our teammates and degrades our readiness.”
Some of the reasons for bad behavior, suggested in the report, include severe stress and lack of adequate support. It also blamed social media and the absence of consequences for online harassment, which in turn can cause harassment offline to surge.
A team of behavioral experts from the Pentagon visited three major academies earlier this year. These were the US Naval Academy in Maryland, the Air Force Academy in Colorado, and the US Military Academy at West Point in New York.
The team produced a file of recommendations to improve the situation, including ending the tradition of “fazing.” One related suggestion was to abolish the “fourth class” system at the Air Force Academy. Under this system, first-year recruits are not considered cadets and do not receive that title until year two. As such, mistreatment of the year-one entries is common.
The Pentagon report furthermore called for greater transparency and more reporting on the health and well-being of trainees. It advocates reduced access to alcohol and other harmful influences, more training in relationships, culturally-specific activities, and access to sports and athletics.
Trust and confidence in leadership were highlighted as necessary numerous times throughout the Pentagon’s notes. The investigation found a sharp decline in the trust of academy leaders by recruits. For example, 59% of women trusted academy leadership this year, compared to 72% in 2017-2018. Similarly, 76% of men had faith in their leaders in 2022-23, compared to 83% in 2018.