COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – As a song lamenting the fate of a wounded soldier plays on the VFW Post jukebox behind him, Bob Campbell talks with disgust in his voice of the treatment some young cadets say they've been getting from the Air Force Academy.
"I think it is terrible that these kinds of things can happen. It should be an honor to be there," the Vietnam veteran says of reports that female cadets were punished by the academy after reporting they had been raped or sexually assaulted by upperclassmen.
"I believe it is going on now -- and has been in the past," he says.
Across this spit-and-polish military town of 500,000, Campbell's sentiment echoes among the civilians as well as the military employees and retirees who make up more than a fifth of the population.
"This is a terrible black mark on the academy," says retired Air Force Col. Dick Rauschkolb, who directed the office of enrollment programs at the academy. "We want the best and brightest here to come here."
Since late January, at least 22 female cadets have said they were ostracized or reprimanded for minor infractions after they reported being raped by upperclassmen. The Air Force is conducting investigations and at least four senators have called for an outside investigation, which Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper has said he would welcome.
KMGH-TV in Denver reported Monday that investigators did not talk to any of the women still at the school who reported rapes.
"It makes you wonder how serious they are about this investigation," Sen. Wayne Allard told the station. "They need to understand this particular senator, and I don't think the rest of the public, is going to let them get by with just a PR move."
Neither Allard nor academy officials returned phone calls Monday.
Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John Dallagher, speaking Friday on ABC's 20/20, said it was as serious as the 1991 Tailhook scandal, when women at a hotel were groped or assaulted by drunken pilots at a Navy booster group's convention.
At Colorado Spring's primary rape and crisis center, counselors have helped 22 alleged rape or assault victims from the academy, said Cari Davis, the center's executive director.
She said many of them are afraid to complain for fear they'll lose their chances to advance in the military.
"If you want to be a fighter pilot, you don't have any other options," she said.
On the academy campus, beyond the large letters at the entrance that spell out, "Bring Me Men," young men and women in uniform walk from the coed dorms to their classes along the wooded hillsides of Pikes Peak.
The property is closed to the public because of heightened security measures, but during an appearance last week by Air Force Secretary James Roche, military public relations officials escorted reporters in to speak with some of the cadets.
Two female cadets, both members of a voluntary group set up to help victims of assaults, said the students at the academy work together to overcome gender barriers. About 4,000 cadets a year train at the academy, created in 1954. It opened its doors to the first female cadets in 1976.
"You're all face down in the mud together," said Cadet 1st Class Sarah Miller of Enola, Pa., who wants to be a pilot.
"I honestly believe this is a wonderful place, and a few bad apples are spoiling the bunch," said Cadet 1st Class Katie Veseth of Malta, Mont.
Janette Tinianow said her twin daughters, who graduated at the top of their academy class in 2000, never had any trouble with classmates. "I never heard of anything that was hushed or put down. I am very skeptical that that is true. My girls were always respected by everybody," she said.
The academy has responded to sexual assaults involving cadets in the past.
After rape allegations surfaced in 1993, the academy established the Center for Character Development to promote ethical conduct.
A 24-hour rape hot line was set up in 1996. Since then, there have been 99 calls reporting some form of sexual assault, from inappropriate touching to rape, according to the academy. Twenty reports of sexual assaults of cadets on or off campus have been investigated since 1996, and two cadets have been convicted for off-campus sex offenses.
Freshmen also take a course called "Street Smarts" to learn how to protect themselves in potentially dangerous situations, including personal relationships. Last year, the academy increased its classroom emphasis on ethics amid the biggest drug scandal in the school's history; 38 cadets were implicated.
In addition to the academy and NORAD, the Colorado Springs area is home to the newly created Northern Command to defend against terrorism, Peterson Air Force Base, and the space warfare and satellite control center at Schriever Air Force Base.
Nearby Fort Carson has 15,000 soldiers, of whom 11,000 are being deployed to the Middle East.
Army commanders are closely watching activities at the Air Force Academy, and particularly the military's response.
"It is healthy to see that our leadership will take action where action is needed to remind ourselves that we are expected to conduct ourselves properly. If we do not, it is good that there are consequences for misconduct," said Fort Carson spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Budzyna.
He said soldiers both in this country and abroad are constantly reminded to treat civilians with dignity.