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Pre-2008 Posts

Air Force Sr. Master Sgt. Convicted, Sentenced, and a Few Thoughts About Justice

Michael F. SydneyMaj. Gen. Thomas J. FiscusKelly Flinn

Sr. Master Sgt. Michael Sydney, whom I blogged about here, accused of essentially pimping women under his command, watching and videotaping them as they gave his bosses blow jobs, then storing the pornographic videos on government computers, has been convicted of pandering, mistreating subordinates, obstructing justice, and some other things.  He has been sentenced to six months in jail, has been reduced in rank to senior airman, and must forfeit $1,445 per month for six months.  Prosecutors asked for five years in jail and that he be court martialed. 

According to news reports here and here, Sydney was charming, manipulative and predatory with a long history of sexual relationships with woman troops, including in the Middle East, all of which were described as “consensual,” even though Sydney was sometimes 20 years the women’s senior and their commanding officer.  One woman who had been involved with Sydney (who was not a soldier) described having met him in a Victim’s Advocate Program where she was speaking about her experiences as a survivor of domestic violence.  It sounds like he was a smooth-talking kind of a guy, telling her how sorry he was that she had to go through all of that, while repeatedly asking for her phone number, which she finally provided and the rest was history.  Another woman reported for duty in the Middle East a week after her father’s death, grieving and scared.  Sydney’s “comfort” resulted in a sexual relationship.  Generally, Sydney told these women he was married, but was in the process of a divorce.  Sometimes they believed they loved him and had a future with him.  But some of them, Sydney ultimately pimped, coercing them to have sex with senior officers responsible for evaluating his work.  When he was finally caught, he ordered one woman to lie to investigators. 

At his sentencing he cried, said he loved his wife, and begged the judge not to sentence him to prison, in view of his responsibilities to his family.  He has been in the Air Force for 23 years.  He has a Bronze Star.  Who knows how many women have had these same experiences while they were serving under his command, including in the Middle East.

The photo on the top left is Sydney.  That’s his story.

The guy to the right of Sydney is Thomas J. Fiscus, an attorney, former judge advocate general of the Air Force.  In 2002, in a  nonjudicial proceeding, he was reprimanded.   In its investigation, the Air Force Inspector General substantiated three categories of allegations against him:  unprofessional relationships with female subordinates, inappropriate sexual advances toward female subordinates, and improper relationships with female civilians.  The substantiated incidents happened over a 10-year period and involved 13 women.  He retired and was demoted to colonel.  According to some reports he had relationships with 24 women or more and all were described as “consensual,” even though women under his command reported being sexually harrassed by him and being targeted for unwanted sexual attention.  Like Sydney, he was married.  Like Sydney, when he was caught, he was all about how he loved his wife and how sorry he was.  During all of the time he was having sex with women under his command, as the Air Force’s top lawyer, he oversaw the work of 3,200 employees, including more than 1,300 Air Force judge advocates.  These are the people who decide the fate of enlisted men and women who get into trouble.  These are the people who, for example, decide who is court-martialed.  But there was never any talk of a court martial with respect to Fiscus.  He lost rank, and he lost some bucks of his retirement. 

The woman on the right is 2nd Lt. Kelly Flinn, the U.S.’s first B-52 pilot.  Flinn fell in love with a civilian whom she knew was the husband of a woman under her command, but whom she believed was separated from his wife and in the process of a divorce.  Flinn said nothing about their relationship, telling colleagues they were “just friends.”  For this, she was accused by the Air Force of lying.  The Air Force then ordered her not to see the man again, and when she couldn’t comply, because she was living with him, she was accused of disobeying orders.  And of course, she was accused of adultery.  At this point, the Air Force began court martial proceedings against her, with prosecutors asking for a 9-year prison sentence.  This came in the wake of the Tailhook Scandal, where not a single Navy officer was court martialled. In the end the Air Force said that if Flinn would agree to a general discharge, she would not be court martialed– in large part because of the public outcry around her treatment.  A general discharge meant Flinn could not fly for the military again, would have to pay back a large portion of the cost of her education at the Air Force Academy, and would receive no veteran’s benefits.  It also means she will have difficulty finding employment. 

So, in sum: if you are a white attorney from Harvard and become a military officer, you can fuck anybody you want for decades, sexually harrass women in your command, and when you get caught, you can lose a little rank and you will retire.  With your benefits and your pension intact, albeit reduced.

If you are black soldier who serves admirably, risks your life in battle, rises up through the ranks by your good hard work, and does well in the military, you can fuck anybody you want for decades, pimp women in your command, make porn out of it and save it off on your hard drive, and when you get caught, you’ll go to jail for six months, you’ll lose 1500 bucks, and you’ll be reduced in rank.  And you will be very embarrassed and humiliated.  But after the six months, you’ll be back in the military, earning money, benefits intact, retirement ahead of you.

If on the other hand you’re a young pretty blonde woman, a rising star, the first B-52 aircraft pilot, and a whole lot of people — men and women — already resent you and hate you for all of the above, please do not color outside of any of the lines when it comes to sexual relationships, or you will PAY for the rest of your life.  You will be threatened with court martial unless you agree to be banished.  You will lose your reputation, your veterans benefits, and will struggle to find work.  You will forever be the scarlet woman, the jezebel.  Who did you think you were, anyway?  Uppity biscuit.  We don’t ever want you to show your face in public again.

Well, let me be very clear.  I think what Flinn did was stupid and wrong.  She had an obligation to the woman under her command.  She should have at least made damn sure the guy she lost everything for was not a liar.  She should have chilled.

But compared with what Sydney did and the way he was treated?  It is absurd.

And compared with Fiscus and the way he was treated, it is a travesty.  Fiscus, unless I’m missing something, was the Air Force’s top lawyer at the time Flinn was up for court martial!  He is out there, married, fucking everybody he could fuck, and of course he lied about it!  Does anybody think he was announcing to all of his superiors that he was sleeping with this enlisted woman and that enlisted woman, and oh, say, she’s hot, she’ll be next!  And of course he was disobeying orders.  He knew what he was doing was wrong. 

If ever there were a commentary on gender and race, here it is, right here.  If ever there were a commentary on why we’ve got male troops out there raping women, both soldiers and civilians, and calling it consensual, and getting away with it, here it is.  If ever there were Exhibit A of institutionalized misogyny, look right here.




10 thoughts on “Air Force Sr. Master Sgt. Convicted, Sentenced, and a Few Thoughts About Justice

  1. And I bet that by and large, women abused by Sydney and Fiscus were all white. It’s debatable whether they would have been brought up on charges — either of them — had the women they abused been women of color.


    Posted by womensspace | July 14, 2006, 10:21 pm
  2. i realize that pretty much every aspect of american society has contempt for women to some extent or another but it seems like the military is particularly blatant and unapologetic about it. it’s disgusting.

    and i don’t know how i STILL manage to be surprised when it’s pointed out. sigh.

    xoxo, jared

    Posted by ms. jared | July 15, 2006, 12:31 am
  3. This is a general comment, referring to all latest posts & links: thanks for all the research and work which goes into this blog!

    Posted by Professor Zero | July 15, 2006, 3:26 am
  4. Thanks, Professor Zero! I do put a lot into it, always have, wherever I’ve written, online, in paper. Someone said the other day they were marveling at the amount of energy I put into this and that I was willing to tackle it. It just doesn’t feel like that to me. It doesn’t feel energy-draining at all. I *had* to write about it, I just had to. That’s the way it felt. Writing has always been the way I work things out for myself and speak my mind, since I could write, which was when I was tiny!


    Posted by womensspace | July 15, 2006, 3:45 am
  5. So true, Ms Jared. What I keep thinking about is, how can ANYBODY suggest the recent rape, or Abu Ghraib, or the rapes the writer talks about in her article All Iraq Is Abu Ghraib are some sort of anomaly or exception to any rule, when you’ve got guys like the above in leadership of the army, all the way to the top! I meant to say something, too, about the ages here. Sydney is 44 with 23 years in, Fiscus was something like in his 50s, Flinn was 26. The first two had been at this a LONG time and what they’ve been doing, they’ve been doing for a LONG time. Flinn screws up once, she’s out.


    Posted by womensspace | July 15, 2006, 3:51 am
  6. The military appears to be riddled with sexual harassment and intimidation. It’s heartbreaking. Recently, on Democracy Now! Amy Goodman interviewed the mother and grandfather of Army Specialist Suzanne Swift. Suzanne has been arrested and confined to base for going AWOL after her charges of sexual harassment and assault went un-addressed by the military. She turns 22 years old today, and her family and friends are participating in a “Meet Me in Fort Lewis” rally and vigil to show support for Suzanne. Links to the transcripts are below.

    Posted by Lori | July 15, 2006, 6:38 pm
  7. I’m sorry Suzanne didn’t slip across the border when she had the chance. It’s their people. C’mon over.

    (Nice white t-shirt Democracy Now is selling. Never let a marketing opportunity slip by, even if it involves prostituting your sister.)

    Posted by Pony | July 16, 2006, 2:19 am
  8. Wups. “there.” The border.

    Posted by Pony | July 16, 2006, 2:26 am
  9. I remember Mike Sydney. Arrogant ass. Could bench 500 lbs. (steroids) and always thought his shit didn’t stink. He was a young sergeant then.

    Posted by Bob | June 5, 2008, 5:53 pm


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