When commanders commit crimes

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Richard Devereaux
  • 82nd Training Wing commander
Over the past few weeks, two rare legal events occurred here at Sheppard--two former commanders were court martialed. I'd like to give you my thoughts on these two cases.

The first case was widely reported in the media and involved the former Commander of our 82 TRG. Col Sam Lofton was convicted of several charges that included indecent assault, conduct unbecoming an officer, larceny, fraud, and AWOL. He was sentenced to 9 years in prison, a hefty fine, forfeiture of pay and allowances, and "dismissal from the service," which is equivalent to a dishonorable discharge.

The second case involved Lt Col Bruce Gooch, former Commander of the 82 MSS, who was convicted of several counts of fraternization and unprofessional relationships with subordinates that included intimate sexual relationships. His sentence included both a reprimand and dismissal from the service, resulting in the forfeiture of all future retirement and veteran's benefits.

Both officers will have federal convictions for the rest of their lives. Col Lofton is in prison.
I know for many of you these two cases generate a whole host of thoughts and feelings. Let me give you a few of mine.

First, the seriousness of these crimes was aggravated by the fact that both were commanders. Oftentimes there exists the perception that more senior personnel who are accused of crimes or misconduct are more likely to "get a pass" or allowed quietly to retire. I do not think that's true, and it certainly wasn't in these cases. From the evidence presented at the trial, both of these commanders clearly abused the trust and confidence inherent in their positions for their own personal gain. This added to the seriousness of their offenses. The juries recognized that. Both were held accountable.

Second, these crimes have left a stain on our Air Force. They offenses chisel away at the credibility, stature, trust, and respect we have for our commanders. Undeniably, these two cases plant seeds of doubt in the minds of our Airmen as to whether they can implicitly trust their commanders and leaders. They also make senior commanders less inclined to completely trust their subordinate commanders, for fear of "getting burned" by a subordinate who may stray from their values. In short, these two cases were an attack upon our Air Force Core Value of "integrity first." Over time, the effects of crimes like these only serve to diminish the teamwork, productivity, and effectiveness of Airmen everywhere. That is why it was so important to hold these officers accountable for their actions.

Finally, and positively, these two cases show the system works. We have standards in our Air Force that are equally applied to everyone, from airman basic to general. In each case, as soon as a hint of misconduct was brought to the attention of senior commanders, aggressive investigations were launched. Both investigations were thorough and exhaustive. The justice system kicked into high gear as significant resources were devoted to prosecuting each case as well as providing for the defense of the accused and protection and assistance to the victims. Each member accused received the full benefit of due process and a fair and open hearing of the charges before a jury of officers. Both were convicted of some charges and acquitted of others. Justice was served.

But in the final analysis, these cases hurt our Air Force. They remind us that some of our people, even leaders, will choose to discard our core values. When this happens, we can take comfort and pride in the fact that our system will ensure they will be found out, investigated, and held accountable. The system works. Take pride in that! And know that our Air Force can and will survive these kinds of attacks on its integrity. Great Airmen like you will always ensure that. Thanks for your continued commitment to our values and our nation.