Air Force denies offering leniency to woman pilot
But spokesman says resignation is optionMay 15, 1997
Web posted at: 11:47 a.m. EDT (1547 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Air Force denied Thursday that its chief had given any sign she would be willing to grant a female bomber pilot an honorable discharge rather than putting her through court-martial proceedings on charges of adultery and failing to follow orders.
The New York Times had reported Thursday that Air Force Secretary Dr. Sheila Widnall might consider allowing Lt. Kelly Flinn, the nation's first female B-52 pilot, to resign rather than face a court-martial.
According to the Times report, which quoted unnamed senior officials, Widnall is looking for a way to avoid a military trial for Flinn, because she anticipates that it will become a high-profile spectacle.
Flinn's case has drawn nationwide attention and she has received support from those members of the public who believe she is being punished for a crime that the Air Force often overlooks.
By military law Widnall is barred from presenting Flinn or any of her commanding officers with the option of resigning, and an Air Force official dismissed as inaccurate the Times statement that she "told associates she would consider allowing the officer to resign with an honorable discharge."
"That is not accurate," said Air Force Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Sconyers. "Secretary Widnall has been careful to avoid any statements that would amount to improper command influence."
Flinn's court-martial is scheduled to open next Tuesday at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Single and age 26, she is charged with adultery and fraternization in connection with two affairs the Air Force says she had over the past year. One involved a single enlisted man ranked lower than Flinn; the other, a married civilian.
She is also charged with lying to investigators, and disobeying a military order to stay away from the married man.
She has admitted to her affair with the married man on national television, but questions whether the charges merit a court-martial. Meanwhile, the Air Force says that the adultery and fraternization charges are less serious than the charges that she broke a bond of trust with her superiors.
The Air Force says Flinn has the right to file a request for discharge in lieu of court-martial, and that Widnall would consider the request on its merits. Flinn has no guarantee of leniency if she requests the chance to resign, a procedure known as resignation in lieu of court martial, or RILO.
She isn't even guaranteed that they'll allow her to resign, and they may require that she plead guilty to some of the charges.
The Air Force gets 30 to 40 RILO requests each year, but a senior official said honorable discharges are rarely granted. A dishonorable discharge would leave a mark on Flinn's record that would make it difficult for her to get security clearance for government jobs, and some civilian posts.
Flinn, a 1993 Air Force Academy graduate, became a B-52 bomber pilot in 1995 as the service began allowing women to fly warplanes. She is now one of only a few women in the Air Force qualified to fly bombers such as the B-52 and the swing-wing B-1.Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.
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