US Air Force general removed for 'unprofessional relationship' with female officer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States Air Force on Thursday (March 17) said it had removed the assistant Air Force vice-chief of staff, Lieutenant General John Hesterman, after an investigation showed he had engaged in inappropriate e-mails with a female Air Force officer about five years ago.

Lt-Gen Hesterman, who previously commanded the U.S. Air Force component of U.S. Central Command, gave up his duties on Thursday and submitted a retirement request, the Air Force said in a statement. It said it was still reviewing whether to downgrade his rank for engaging in an unprofessional relationship with a lower-ranking officer, and for engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

The Air Force said an investigation launched in October showed that misconduct occurred between May 2010 and May 2011 when Lt-Gen Hesterman was a major-general and exchanged "sexually suggestive" e-mails with the female officer.

"The language is sexually suggestive in parts and indicates a relationship that has gone well beyond a professional, mentorship situation," the investigation report said.

It raised particular concern about a passage in one e-mail in which Lt-Gen Hesterman "intimated that he improperly influenced" the female officer's boss to say laudatory things about her and expected "full credit" for doing so.

Both officers were married to other people at the time.

"These e-mail exchanges were found to have constituted an unprofessional relationship. The investigation did not uncover any additional misconduct," the Air Force said.

The Air Force said a third allegation was not substantiated; that section of the report was completely redacted.

The anonymous complaint that triggered the probe alleged that Lt-Gen Hesterman also interfered in the military assignments of the female officer's former husband, according to a heavily redacted copy of the investigation report.

It was not immediately clear whether the female lieutenant-colonel, a reserve officer serving in a full-time position, would also be disciplined. Neither her name nor the name of her former husband were disclosed.

Both denied engaging in sexual intercourse, although the female officer told one of the witnesses interviewed during the investigation that there had been "inappropriate touching".

The investigation report includes materials presented during the woman's divorce proceedings, including some e-mails that the female officer said were fabricated because she had not seen them until the divorce proceedings.

In a February 2016 statement, she said it appeared that someone had used her former e-mail account to correspond with Lt-Gen Hesterman. The name of the person was redacted in the investigative report provided by the Air Force.