American Family News spoke to Lt. Col. Ryan Sweazey (USAF-Ret.), the founder of Walk the Talk Foundation, a group that advocates for and protects whistleblowers. The former F-16 fighter pilot once served as Inspector General (IG) in the Air Force where he not only witnessed, but also called attention to, various deficiencies within the IG system and Department of Defense (DOD).
Sweazey is petitioning for the creation of an independent IG outside of the DOD.
"Whether the issue is assault, or abuse, or reprisal, or discrimination, or any other of the myriad of issues afflicting the military today," Sweazey says, "the root cause is simply this: the Department of Defense has consistently demonstrated it cannot police itself."
He adds: "When faced with the decision of whether to hold itself truly accountable, or to save face, [the DOD] nearly always opts for the latter."
In the end, he shares, individual service members "pay the price."
"[They are] unable to get the timely and adequate justice they deserve after being wronged," he explains.
The problem of a failing DOD IG system can be resolved, according to Sweazey.
"An important first step," he proposes, "[would require funding] an entity which is truly independent – not one that pretends to be [independent] while really just being another arm of undue command influence and abuse." While the current DOD IG agency claims to be independent and objective, Sweazey argues it is not.
As a result, Sweazey suggests a new mechanism be funded by Congress in a future National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which specifies the annuals budget and expenditures of the DOD. Doing so, he tells AFN, "would serve the ultimate purpose of being a fair and unbiased means by which military members can seek redress without fear of retribution."
Negative impact on retention and recruiting
Sweazey explains why focusing on the DOD IG system is important, pointing out that on a near-daily basis he hears and reads about the decline of the U.S. military, whether it be "recruiting woes, or the increasing trust gap our nation has vis-a-vis the military."
"This trend, if continued, poses a serious risk to national security," Sweazey warns, explaining that "the less talent we can retain and recruit, the more we become vulnerable to future threats."
Having the opportunity to review his Foundation's cases as well as news coverage concerning why people are leaving the military or refusing to join, Sweazey reveals he is "wholeheartedly convinced that one of the primary root causes is that people feel – and rightfully so – that they simply don't have rights when in the service."
That, he emphasizes, is a false conclusion.
"If we are to have the military remain an attractive profession in the future, [this feeling] must change," Sweazey argues. "The first step to achieving that is by ensuring the people who fight to defend our country be able to enjoy the rights they are entitled to as Americans."