Two squadron commanders belonging to the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks were relieved of command this week following investigations that revealed a culture of hazing within their units, the U.S. Air Force said.
Lt. Col. Robb Fiechtner, 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron, and Lt. Col. Joshua Cates, 5th Air Support Operations Squadron, were relieved of their squadron command positions by the wing commander, Col. Benjamin Bishop, according to a press release Friday from the wing’s public affairs office.
Fiechtner’s squadron, with about 80 members, is based at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson north of Anchorage but also responsible for a detachment at Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks.
None of the units in Cates’ squadron are in Alaska, according to a public affairs officer for the 354th. But the 354th wing commander has administrative control over that squadron, which is based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
The disciplinary action follows an investigation commanders started in January into a practice called “rolling up” in which an airman is tackled or restrained, their hands or feet are bound in duct tape, and they are allowed to struggle before being released, the Air Force said.
The practice was a longstanding tradition passed on through squadrons, but the military has made it clear that hazing will no longer be tolerated, said Capt. Kay Nissen, public affairs officer at Eielson. Rolling up comes with the concern the airman could get hurt.
“Some culture changes die hard and that’s kind of what we’re looking at right now,” Nissen said. “Some units did not get the message that this should not be happening.”
A group commander received an indication that the practice was occurring and started the investigation, she said, then forwarded it the wing level when he realized it went beyond that squadron. There was no specific complaint that started the investigation.
Both lieutenant colonels will keep their ranks and be reassigned, Nissen said. They could at some point be commanders again.
“We don’t consider them bad people,” she said. “They just made a leadership mistake.”
Fiechtner’s service began in May 2001. Cates’ began in July 2000.