A U.S. Air Force Inspector General investigation published this week has cleared the service of wrongdoing after accusations arose in January that a female trainee was given preferential treatment during a special warfare course and was allowed to return to the course after quitting.
The allegations were first raised in January by an anonymous Air Force combat controller in a message tweeted by Brian Kimber, an Air Force Pararescue (PJ) veteran, journalist and podcaster. Kimber’s tweets were reposted the same day by Navy SEAL veteran and Congressman Dan Crenshaw, who called on the military to address the allegations if they were true, and warned against bending training rules.
The allegations said that the female trainee, who was attempting to become the first female special tactics officer (STO), struggled at various stages of the selection process. After completing one portion of the course in 2018, the trainee was passed over and considered a non-selectee to proceed. She was, however, invited to return and try again.
In January 2020, the female trainee restarted the two to three-year STO training pipeline with the Special Tactics Training Squadron (STTS) at Hurlburt Field in Florida. During that time, she allegedly became known for quitting at various points during training. The letter further claimed, and the inspector general report confirmed, that this female trainee elected to self-eliminate during a solo-event land navigation course.
The IG report, which was completed in April and published this week, found that in the instance where the female trainee was considered a non-selectee to proceed through the course, all but one member of the training cadre voted to consider her a non-selectee but 70 percent of the cadre “voted in favor of reassessing her in one year or less.”
Addressing the female trainee’s self-elimination, the IG report states that in the last ten years only five candidates self-eliminated from training at around the same advanced stage that the female trainee had and that the she “was the only person to request a return to the training pipeline.”
“Although there is precedence for a candidate who self-eliminates
to return to training, the point at which Candidate X self-eliminated – after completing most of the apprentice pipeline – was unprecedented,” the IG report states. The report then said the incident prompted course leaders “to consider the circumstances that led a well-performing officer to [self-eliminate] late in training.”
The report states that the circumstances working against the female trainee when she self-eliminated included “an environment where students would openly make gender disparaging statements.” The report did not provide specifics about these disparaging statements.
The report also addressed claims of lowered fitness standards around the time of the female trainee’s arrival at the course.
The female trainee had herself questioned the timing of these lowered fitness standards. She wrote “I believe the change in standards invalidated me with a majority of my team. They knew the standards were at one point 300lbs for the deadlift. During the test, we were not told any standards, and I lifted 250lbs. Since I passed, they believed the standards had been bent
for me. One cadre member had a conversation with a student and said that the cadre ‘rioted’ when they found out the PT test was changing back to lesser standards. Perhaps all of this timing was coincidental, but looks highly suspicious with my arrival on campus.”
While she passed by the new standards, the changes appeared to have been so recent that her scores from a March 2021 test, which included a deadlift element, were still marked as a failure on an electronic record.
The report found that the standards were changed based on concerns about inconsistencies between the Air Force’s Career Field Education and Training Plan (CFETP) and the special warfare Operator Fitness Test (OFT) standards. The report assessed that the concern about the standards actually arose when a male trainee failed the fitness test requirements prior to the female trainee’s arrival at the particular course. One special tactics leader told investigators, “[Y]ou could equally make the argument
that we had updated the PT standards so then that male student who had failed could make it through the pipeline . . . but nobody, nobody focused on that fact.”