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Senator suggests Air Force base implement 'buddy system' to curtail sex assault

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Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) questions Secretary of Defense nominee James Mattis during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Getty Images/Bill Clark)

In order to prevent potential sexual assaults, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) suggested a Texas Air Force base implement a "buddy system."

Ernst, the first female combat veteran in the Senate, said in a letter to Air Force Brig. Gen. Heather L. Pringle that after a recent visit to the U.S. Air Force 502nd Air Base Wing and Joint Base San Antonio she found a "number of ways" the base could better address sexual assault — including implementing a buddy system.

"I was surprised to hear that the Air Force was the only service that did not require such a system for all of its students in training status," Ernst said. "This is disappointing as the buddy pair system not only can reduce vulnerabilities for sexual assault, but also helps young service members make better decisions."

Ernst added that when she was deployed, those on her base traveled in groups of two.

"As we continue to see sexual assault plague institutions around the country, it is my hope the the military will continue to take concrete steps to improve and become a leading example for how to effectively curb this problem," she said.

Ernst argued for a buddy system earlier this month as well in an op-ed for North Iowa Today:

Those who have worn our nation’s uniform know the importance of a battle buddy system. Though it was used on my deployment to deter sexual assault, its ability to have a positive impact ranges from helping young recruits make better decisions to keeping a teammate awake on watch.

The blanket order given to us in 2004 had an important message: Rank and location will not protect you from sexual assault. Over a decade later, as a U.S. senator, I often look back on that time as a vivid reminder of the need to address this continuing issue.

Sexual assault can impact anyone. It is a problem throughout our society from college campuses to our military — all of which we must work to end.

As the Hill reported, 35 basic training instructors have been investigated for misconduct with 69 recruits and technical training students just since 2011.

Ernst, along with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), has focused on the ongoing problem of sexual assault in the military.

According to a May report from the Human Rights Watch, thousands of service members have been discharged from the military after reporting a sexual assault or rape.

The report, which came after a 28-month investigation, found that many victims were discharged unfairly, thus making them ineligible for benefits. Still others were given an "Other Than Honorable" discharge that would block them from receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

Along with McCaskill, Ernst included the Military Retaliation Prevention Act in the Senate's the National Defense Authorization Act that would curtail retaliation against those who report the crime.

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