AFSOC commander challenges criticism of female Special Tactics trainee
HURLBURT FIELD — An anonymous social media post regarding alleged special treatment of a minority female candidate in her effort to become part of the Air Force's elite Special Tactics forces has prompted a reaction from Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of the Hurlburt Field-headquartered Air Force Special Operations Command, under which Special Tactics units operate.
In a statement issued Thursday, Slife called the post "bullying and harassment" of the candidate with assertions that are " ... either factually incorrect or missing important context which would completely change the perception."
Additionally, in a Friday memorandum to Special Tactics airmen, Slife called for Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall III to direct the service's inspector general "to conduct an independent review of the allegations contained in the email," according to a copy of the memorandum linked to an Air Force Times article on the social media post.
"The results of that independent review will be provided to the Secretary and we can trust the Secretary will take steps he believes are in the best interest of the Department (of the Air Force)," Slife wrote.
Elsewhere in the memorandum, Slife wrote, in an underlined statement, "Our standards have not changed to accommodate women. Period."
The anonymous post, which has been identified by other sources as coming from an Air Force combat controller — a highly and diversely trained Special Tactics airman — contends that the Special Tactics candidate, one of the first women to enter the two- to three-year training pipeline, has quit the training numerous times since an initial failed 2018 attempt, but nonetheless has been allowed by AFSOC to pick up where she left off, as of Jan. 3.
In his statement following the spread of the social media post, Slife conceded that training "norms" for airmen seeking to become part of Special Tactics have changed, before adding that standards for that training are "always tied to our mission."
"How we bring trainees through the training pipeline today is different than the way we brought them through the pipeline 15 years ago because our understanding of the best way to get trainees to meet standards and be ready to join the operational force has evolved," Slife said in the statement released to the Daily News and other media outlets, "It will continue to do so."
Slife added that "(n)orms may adapt over time, but the standards are always tied to our mission. As the mission changes, the needed standards may change as well, but that hasn’t happened in this case."
According to the anonymous post, the candidate — the Air Force is keeping her name and other personal information confidential — re-entered the Special Tactics training pipeline in 2020 and "quit during various points of her training."
Yet she reportedly remained in the pipeline, including a "more relaxed" version of diving-related training, allegedly because her progress was being watched by high-ranking AFSOC officers and unnamed members of Congress, according to the anonymous post.
The candidate next supposedly "self-eliminated" in 2021 during a land navigation phase of training, according to the post, and was sent back to Hurlburt Field, where the post contends that unit commanders talked with her about remaining in the pipeline.
Last spring, according to the post, the candidate was given an opportunity to write a report about her experience as a woman in the Special Tactics pipeline, which the post's author contends " ... launched an investigation into the treatment of women in the AFSOC community."
In December, according to the post's author, the Special Tactics community was "told that (the candidate's) training status will be actively re-instated on 3 January 2022 ... ."
The post from the supposed combat controller surfaced originally on Instagram, and also made its way to the popular Reddit website, where registered users post content for discussion.
The post was subsequently deleted from Reddit but has resurfaced on Twitter.
A Twitter post, including the reported combat controller's narrative, was enough to attract the attention of U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, a retired Navy lieutenant commander and former Navy SEAL.
In a Wednesday retweet of the post, Crenshaw tagged U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and included the message, "We cannot sacrifice training standards. Ever. Full stop. If this account is true, our military needs to address it now."
As of Friday afternoon, a spokesman for Crenshaw's office had not responded to a Daily News email seeking further comment on the congressman's reaction to allegations in the post.
Slife, in his response to the post, lends credence to the claim that its author is an Air Force combat controller. Slife notes that "(s)ingling out a fellow service member for public abuse is bullying and harassment, which are unacceptable deviations from both our standards, our norms and values as Airmen."
Slife further bolstered the identity claimed for the author in part of his statement indicating AFSOC would not comment specifically on the candidate's Special Tactics training.
"... (I)n order to avoid adding to the attention and pressure this trainee is facing —attention and pressure the author did not experience during his own journey — we will not address specific details related to her experiences,” Slife wrote.
Accompanying the email to the Daily News along with Slife's statement was a generalized statement from AFSOC reading, "Due to privacy and operational security, we will not discuss specific details on a candidate's status and training progression. All candidates must meet the standard requirements and are assessed equally on their ability to lead in physically and mentally challenging environments."