Married Air Force officer admits she slept with general twice in one night and then flew C-17 hours after drinking

U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, 19th Air Force commander, greets Airmen at the 54th Operations Support Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, Sep. 28, 2022. Aircrew flight equipment Airmen supported Stewart by preparing and fitting his flight gear for an F-16 Viper familiarization flight (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Corinna Diaz)

Sig Christenson
San Antonio Express-News
(TNS)

In dramatic and often tearful testimony, an Air Force officer said she silently complied when Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart initiated a sexual encounter with her because the two had been drinking and she was “dumbfounded” and saw no way out.

Although she didn’t want to have sex with Stewart, she did not resist, the woman told a military jury Monday. “I didn’t really say or do anything,” she said. “I wasn’t sure of what to do.”

The woman, a career Air Force officer, is the main witness against Stewart in a rare court-martial of a general officer. The trial is being held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio before a jury of eight three-star generals — six men and two women.

Stewart is accused of sexually assaulting the woman, who was a subordinate of his, at or near Altus AFB in southwestern Oklahoma in April 2023. He has long contended the encounter was consensual while prosecutors asserted that given his rank, the woman had no choice but to submit. Her name is being withheld by the Express-News because she is an alleged victim of sexual assault.

The woman testified that she struggled with what to do after the encounter with Stewart, because she was worried that disclosing it could damage both her career and her marriage. Stewart was her boss. At the time, he was commander of the 19th Air Force, the service’s San Antonio-based pilot training arm, overseeing 32,000 employees and 1,530 aircraft in 17 wings across the country.

Before describing the alleged encounter at Altus, the witness recounted an incident that happened a month earlier during an Air Force conference that she, Stewart and others attended in Denver. On March 7, 2023, Stewart urged her in a series of text messages to come to his hotel room, according to trial evidence.

“You can crash here,” he wrote. “I have 2 queens.”

She said he also told her, “I had the bottle of Jack in my room. Seemed a crime to waste it. Watching the full moon now.”

The woman said she was rattled by the exchange and shared the texts with a pair of non-commissioned officers who also were under Stewart’s command.

“I was upset. I didn’t know what to do with it,” she testified. But she said that the next morning, she told the two airmen, “Don’t do anything, don’t say anything.”

Everything went back to normal, she said. The following month, she and the general were on another business trip, to Altus, where on April 13, 2023, officers and brass celebrated the contributions made by a former general.

After the event, the woman, Stewart and the two NCOs went back to the on-base guest house where Stewart was staying. The woman said that along the way, she and Stewart had a good conversation that struck her as a breakthrough of sorts. Until then, she told the jury, she had not talked much with Stewart and “did not have a close relationship” with him.

“I felt like we were bonding,” she said.

They tried to enter Stewart’s guest house but the key wouldn’t work. Eventually, they realized it was the wrong unit.

“It was embarrassing and funny, and the boss said, ‘I’m going to have a glass of wine,'” she said. Stewart asked if she would have one as well. She said yes and they continued their conversation. She said they talked about her family, her husband and career matters.

“I was in a very happy place, and the wine kept pouring and I kept drinking,” the officer said, her voice thick with emotion.

The lead prosecutor, Col. Naomi Dennis, asked her about the text messages from Stewart that had disturbed her only a month before. The woman said she thought that perhaps she had overreacted, and added, “I wasn’t thinking about the messages at that point.”

The woman said she went to the bathroom and when she emerged saw that the two NCOs had left. Stewart, who had been sitting in an armchair, was now on the couch, she said. She sat on the couch with him, and they talked “about a mix of things.” She told him she had done “real things” in the Air Force and showed him photos from a critical missions she had been involved in in Afghanistan.

“Initially, it was just fine,” she said. “It was sharing stories, talking about lots of things. I still felt safe. Everything was fine.”

At some point, she said, she noticed the curtains had been closed and she realized Stewart, who was married, had put an arm around her. She thought it was “a little strange” because the conversation was not flirtatious, she said.

“Things were starting to just, like, slow down,” she told the jury.

“I can’t remember how it started. All of sudden, it started happening.”

He kissed her, she said.

“I kissed him back. I hadn’t kissed anyone but my husband in 22 years,” she said. “I was dumbfounded.”

The office said she wanted to stop, but didn’t resist. “I never told him no.”

She said she wanted to think her way out of the situation, but things happened too fast.

“He stood up and put his hand out and said, ‘Come on,'” she told the jury, adding that she clutched his hand.

Stewart took her clothes off at the door to the bedroom, she testified. When the prosecutor asked what happened next, she paused before responding. She said Stewart told her: “‘I want to give you oral sex. I love oral sex.'”

The officer said she tried to dissuade him by saying she had not taken a shower. Stewart replied that he didn’t care, she said.

The woman said she wondered what her husband would say if he found out, and she worried about how a tryst with a general would affect her career. She felt trapped, she said, telling the jury, “It sounds so simple, but it’s not simple.

“I was not prepared to have my entire universe blown up.”

The woman she and Stewart had intercourse twice that night. When she went back to her lodging, it was 3:40 a.m. on April 14. In only a few hours, they would arise to make an early morning flight out of Oklahoma on a C-17 military transport. That was well short of a minimum 12-hour gap between consuming alcohol and flying a plane, an Air Force “bottle to throttle” rule. Stewart skippered the flight.

Over the next few weeks, she wrestled with what to do.

“I could barely hold it together,” she said, recalling that a new airman had joined the 19th Air Force staff, “and I was thinking he would think that I’m a basket case.”

A little more than a week after the encounter in Oklahoma, the woman said that she her husband and her in-laws ran into Stewart in a restaurant in Cibolo. She said Stewart bought drinks for all of them and shook hands with her husband.

She tried to move on from what happened, she told the jurors, but she could not. “The more I pretended everything’s fine, the more I’m disgusted with all of it.”

She finally told her husband about the incident and then reported it to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Weeks later, Stewart was removed as head of the 19th Air Force.

The woman took the witness stand at 4:18 p.m. Monday and testified into the evening. As she stepped down, she looked straight ahead, avoiding any eye contact with Stewart.

Before the start of testimony Monday, Stewart pleaded guilty to two lesser charges: extramarital sexual conduct and dereliction of duty, both violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The plea did not affect the more serious charges against him, including sexual assault and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Stewart was a command pilot with more than 2,600 hours in the air, including more than 600 hours in combat. He flew nearly a dozen types of aircraft, including the F-15C fighter, the U-2 high-altitude spy plane and the T-38C supersonic trainer.

He led the 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Balad Air Base in Iraq and was commanding general of the NATO Train Advise Assist Command-Air in Afghanistan.

Stewart is only the second general in Air Force history to face a court-martial. The first was Maj. Gen. William T. Cooley, who commanded the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. He was convicted in April 2022 of abusive sexual conduct and was reduced to the rank of colonel. Cooley retired in June 2023.

___

(c)2024 the San Antonio Express-News

Visit the San Antonio Express-News at www.mysanantonio.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Post navigation