Helms To Retire After Nomination to be AFSPC Vice Commander Withdrawn

Helms To Retire After Nomination to be AFSPC Vice Commander Withdrawn

The nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to be Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) has been withdrawn and she plans to retire from the Air Force.  Helms is a career Air Force officer and former NASA astronaut.

Helms is currently Commander, 14th Air Force (Air Force-Strategic Space), Air Force Space Command, and Commander, Joint Functional Component Command for Space, U.S. Strategic Command.  She was nominated to be AFSPC Vice Commander on March 20, 2013, but quickly came under fire from Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) who put a hold on the nomination. 

McCaskill and many other Senators are outraged at the number of sexual assaults in the military.  McCaskill is a former felony prosecutor of sexual crimes and is particularly concerned about military commanders who overturn jury guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases.   Helms did just that in February 2012, overturning the conviction of an Air Force Captain.

After meeting with Helms to discuss the situation, McCaskill made a statement in June praising Helms’ “distinguished military service” over more than 30 years, but said she continued to have “deep concerns” about Helm’s decision and would continue to block her nomination.  McCaskill said Helms made the decision “against the advice of her staff judge advocate,” and with that action “… Helms sent a damaging message to survivors of sexual assault who are seeking justice in the military justice system….only to have that justice ripped away with the stroke of a pen by an individual who was never in the courtroom for the trial and who never heard the testimony.”   McCaskill is vigorously championing legislation that would prevent military commanders from overturning jury verdicts in such cases and require civilian review instead.  DOD strongly opposes that effort. 

Helms was the first U.S. military woman in space and made four space shuttle flights in addition to spending five months aboard the International Space Station (ISS).   She was part of the second ISS crew in 2001.   She left NASA in 2002 and resumed her Air Force duties, rising to the rank of Lieutenant General in 2011.   Her nomination this March was for assignment as Vice Commander of AFSPC. 

The White House has not yet posted its withdrawal of the nomination, but the Senate’s nomination website states that the Senate received a message of withdrawal from the President yesterday.  The Air Force Times reports this afternoon that Helms has filed for retirement.

Helms overturned the conviction of AF Captain Matthew Herrera because she could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that prosecutors had met the burden of proof, but Herrera was “punished administratively and kicked out of the Air Force in December,” according to the Air Force Times report.

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