The top Air Force general is getting involved in the case of several pilots who were grounded after exchanging text messages that referenced Miley Cyrus lyrics -- but were seen by their commanding officers as evidence of drug activity.
After lawmakers complained the punishment appeared "excessive," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh last week directed the military service’s inspector general to look into whether officials at the Laughlin Air Force Base followed proper procedures and made the right call.
“General Welsh is a good leader and a no-nonsense kind of guy,” a top aide to California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, now involved in the pilots’ case, told FoxNews.com on Monday. “He recognizes a problem here.”
Officials at the Texas base reportedly concluded the pilots were distributing drugs based only on the text messages, which refer to ecstasy by its street name, Molly, and include the Miley Cyrus lyrics: “We like to party/ Dancing with Molly/ Doing whatever we want.”
The pilots purportedly passed drug tests and said the lyrics are about carousing, chasing women and trying to sustain the memory of a lost weekend in Las Vegas.
The Air Force has issued a statement confirming the IG inquiry and saying the pilots’ cases will be reviewed based on the findings.
“Commanders are expected to hold members accountable for their actions, while ensuring due process and equitable treatment are appropriately applied in every case,” the statement reads in part.
“Commanders take this responsibility very seriously. An allegation of mistreatment is reviewed at multiple levels, and the Laughlin cases are no exception.”
However, officials could not immediately say Monday whether their punitive actions, which purportedly include efforts to discharge the pilots, were based on additional evidence.
The entire process is expected to take about six weeks.
Welsh’s request for the IG inquiry, initially reported by The Daily Beast and the JQP blog, follows a recent Capitol Hill meeting with Hunter and fellow Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, who say the punishment appears "excessive."
The lawmakers would not disclose the details of the closed-door meeting. But a source described it as “tense” and said Welsh appeared frustrated because he wasn’t thoroughly informed about the case.
“At no point did investigators obtain any evidence beyond the initial text messages to support an allegation of illicit drug use,” Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran, and Hunter, a Marine veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, said in a Sept. 15 letter to Welsh that preceded the meeting.
“The Air Force might not like show-boating … but to think that could be considered criminal, especially in the absence of evidence that a crime occurred, severely undermines the integrity of the Air Force’s investigative process.”
The ordeal purportedly began about a year ago and was prompted by a separate probe into an inappropriate relationship between one of the grounded pilots and a female student pilot.
That investigation led to the discovery of the texts that referred to drugs.
The Hunter aide said the congressmen are satisfied that Welsh promptly addressed their concerns and ordered the inquiries but emphasized “they have clear expectations.”
He suggested the congressmen want the pilots reinstated or discharged cleanly.
“This is not about one individual, but there could be scalps,” the aide said. “The Air Force has a way out. The question is whether to take it.”