WASHINGTON - The Air Force has put a female two-star general in charge of a beefed-up office responsible for sexual assault prevention and response, elevating its status at a time of increasing political pressure to crack down on sexual abuses.
Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward, who ran the U.S. portion of the allied air campaign over Libya in 2011 and is one of the Air Force's brightest stars, is running the reorganized office. She will report to the vice chief of the Air Force.
The move won praise from the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., who called Woodward a "breath of fresh air."
In this Aug. 4, 2008 file photo, then-Brig. Gen. Margaret Woodward is seen at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The Air Force is putting a female two-star general in charge of a reorganized sexual assault prevention office.
The office previously was run by a lieutenant colonel, Jeffrey Krusinski, who was arrested in May and charged with sexual battery. That incident escalated public debate over whether the military was taking seriously the problem of sexual abuse.
The House is scheduled to vote next week on a defense policy bill that would take away the power of military commanders to overturn convictions in rape and assault cases. The legislation also would require that anyone in uniform found guilty of a sex-related crime receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal from military service or a dishonorable discharge.
McKeon said Woodward is well-suited to the challenge she is facing.
"I welcome her voice to this fight," he said.
The Pentagon estimated in a recent report that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel.
An Air Force spokesman, Lt. Col. John Dorrian, said Friday that Woodward's office will be given additional resources, including a much larger staff than in its previous configuration. He said Woodward began the job this week.
Woodward entered the Air Force in 1983 with an aerospace engineering degree from Arizona State University. She has one master's degree in aviation science and another in national security strategy.