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Air Force captain dissents from military sex assault policy, and commanders take notice

WASHINGTON – With just a few weeks left in her Air Force career, Capt. Maribel Jarzabek decided to vent a little. She posted a few messages on a U.S. senator’s Facebook page, supporting the lawmaker’s push to overhaul the military justice system for sexual-assault cases.

Not long afterward, Jarzabek received an email from a higher-ranking officer, informing her that she was under criminal investigation. The allegations? That she had wrongfully advocated “a partisan political cause” and expressed opinions online that could undermine public confidence in the Air Force.

Jarzabek is a military lawyer assigned as part of a new program to represent victims of sexual assault. Although the Defense Department has promoted the program as a success story and part of a broader campaign to crack down on sex crimes within the armed forces, Jarzabek had grown disillusioned and said she felt the Air Force was papering over deeper problems.

“Changes are needed, and it’s time that the public knew about the military’s true dirty little secrets!” she wrote Dec. 2 in a long comment posted on the Facebook page of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Under military regulations, uniformed personnel are prohibited from publicly participating in overt political causes. Appearing at a rally in uniform or endorsing a candidate is forbidden.

In her Facebook posts, Jarzabek identified herself as an active-duty Air Force lawyer, which apparently is what drew the attention of her superiors and prompted the investigation.

On Dec. 23, after a brief investigation, Jarzabek said she was notified by the investigating officer that she had been found guilty of the allegations. The punishment was decidedly mild: She was given “verbal counseling,” or a warning not to do it again.

Although the outcome won’t appear as a black mark on her official military record, Jarzabek called the investigation a thinly veiled attempt to retaliate against her for advocating too strongly for sexual-assault victims. In an interview, she also questioned the timing, noting that her departure from the service was imminent. After a five-year career, Wednesday is her last day in the Air Force.

“I told the truth,” said Jarzabek, 34, who is stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “I do believe they are trying to silence me and also send a message to other special-victim counsels who agree with me but are afraid to speak up.”

Air Force Col. Kristine Kijek, the investigating officer who upheld the allegations against Jarzabek, did not respond to an email seeking comment. A bill introduced by Gillibrand would strip commanders of the authority to oversee investigations into sexual assaults and other serious crimes, giving those powers to uniformed prosecutors.