Lt Col (Ret) Craig M. Perry, “Never Leave an Airman Behind: How the Air Force Faltered and Failed in the Wake of the Lackland Sex Scandal” https://www.amazon.com/Never-Leave-Airman-Behind-Faltered/dp/1530633494/
“Thus begins Lt. Col. Perry’s analysis of the tragic case of Master Sergeant Mike Silva, the last MTI to face prosecution in the wake of the Lackland sex scandal, during which a handful of instructors were accused of rape and sexual assault, and dozens more were found to have engaged in unprofessional relationships with trainees and students.
“By the time this case finally went to trial, however, the Air Force had managed to secure a rape conviction against only one other MTI, SSgt Luis Walker. It was the Walker case that launched an Air Force-wide witch-hunt, yet none of the dozens of other defendants since then was found to have engaged in similarly heinous crimes at BMT. ‘United States v. MSgt Michael Silva’ seemed to offer one last opportunity to put a serial rapist behind bars.
“The similarities between these two cases didn’t end there,” Lt. Col. Perry noted. “MSgt Silva was alleged to have raped a trainee in and around the same recruit housing and training facility – Building 9210 – where SSgt Walker later committed his crimes. MSgt Silva hired a civilian attorney to assist in his defense, who previously represented Walker during his court-martial – although he never advised his new client of this unfortunate coincidence. In an even more ironic twist, MSgt Silva would receive an identical sentence as his notorious predecessor, perversely bookending this sad chapter in Air Force justice.
“What made the Silva court-martial unlike any other MTI prosecutions that came before was the timeframe of the allegations,” the author observed. “The crimes MSgt Silva stood accused of committing didn’t occur during the troubled recent era at BMT. Rather, he supposedly raped a trainee back in 1995, when he was just a Senior Airman. This former trainee first came forward in October 2012, months after the Lackland sex scandal made national headlines, when she reported her alleged assault to the AETC sexual assault hotline.
“Her story changed several times, however, before this case went to court-martial, where she accused MSgt Silva of raping her not once, but twice. One night, she testified, SrA Silva woke her up in the open-bay barracks, told her to put on her physical training clothes, and took her to his personal vehicle. When she expressed concern about being alone with him, this MTI supposedly told her he would take care of her and she did not have to worry. SrA Silva then allegedly raped her in the front seat of his car – and again a few days later in an unspecified dark room. She claimed SrA Silva told her if she reported what happened, either nobody would believe her or it would follow her around for her whole career.
“In addition to these alleged crimes at Lackland, Silva also stood accused by two ex-wives of raping them during their marriages – first in North Carolina in the early 1990s, then again in 2007, when he was stationed in Wyoming.
“None of these alleged victims appeared at an Article 32 evidentiary hearing in February 2014, but they provided damning testimony when the case finally went to trial nearly a year later. Although these were essentially “he said, she said” allegations, with no physical evidence or corroborating witnesses, the prosecution painted a compelling picture to bolster their case.”
According to a newspaper account of the trial, the new recruit who accused MSgt Silva of raping her nearly two decades earlier was “outstanding” before she joined the Air Force, “throwing two paper routes as a kid, taking advanced classes in school, playing guitar and singing in a choir. She also had family in the military and couldn’t wait to serve,” the author wrote. Her mother described her as “vivacious,” “strong” and “determined” when she shipped off to BMT at age 18, but she “was not the same girl” after coming home. “She just didn’t know what she was going to do anymore,” her mother told the court. Her husband and mother both described her as “paranoid and hypervigilant, staying in her house more often than not, struggling to sleep and distant from her children,” claiming to fear Silva or someone else was observing her.
When she took the stand, this alleged victim said she “knew the enemy could do bad things,” but she felt she had been betrayed by a fellow airman. “I used to have a hate for Michael Silva in my heart, and I don’t like that,” she told the jury panel of five officers and three senior NCOs. One of MSgt Silva’s ex-wives wrote in an unsworn statement read to the jury that she “was extremely anxious around authority figures,” made a lot of mistakes in her job and struggled to be intimate with her new husband since her alleged rape. “I became emotionally flat,” she wrote. Prosecutors said MSgt Silva choked and overpowered his victims during their alleged assaults, and they sought a life sentence for these offenses.
MSgt Silva wasn’t called to testify during the trial, and appeared to show no emotion as the jury handed down its sentence at the end of his nearly two-week trial. He had been convicted of raping both the trainee and his second wife, but acquitted of the oldest charge. During the punishment phase of the trial, the defendant’s sister tearfully told the jury her brother was a good father, and so devoted to his parents that he returned home from an overseas tour to care for his dad, a retired Army sergeant major; his mother has also lived with him since suffering a heart attack. “He’s always been taking care of everybody,” she said. In an unsworn statement, which allowed him to take the stand without being cross-examined, MSgt Silva expressed sorrow to the Air Force, his family, and even the jury. He did not, however, apologize to any of his alleged victims, maintaining his innocence until the end. His government-appointed attorney noted MSgt Silva was a father, the son of a career soldier, and an Air Force veteran on the rise who had been selected for promotion to Senior Master Sergeant.
On the other hand, the recruit he was convicted of raping told the jury this former MTI “is not the Air Force,” and with a guilty verdict rendered, she no longer has to be scared. MSgt Silva was sentenced to 20 years confinement, a dishonorable discharge, total forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and reduction in grade to E-1. He is currently incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and could be eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence, or just under seven years.
“Rape and sexual assault are an ugly business, and inherently difficult to prosecute,” Lt. Col. Perry conceded. “Balancing a defendant’s presumption of innocence and right to a fair trial, on the one hand, with our sympathy for those violated in such an intimate and personal way, on the other, is always challenging. In the absence of corroborating witnesses or physical evidence, securing justice in such cases is an even more fraught proposition, which often comes down to the credibility of the accuser.
“My intention here is not to trash the reputations of those women who came forward,” the author continued, “and I am not at all unsympathetic to survivors of sexual crimes. (My own wife, Caroline, was herself a victim of a brutal kidnapping and rape.) I am also not suggesting that alleged victims are prone to lie about sexual assault. On the contrary, conventional wisdom finds less than 10 percent of rape allegations are provably false. But even if the majority of such allegations are valid, untrue claims are occasionally made, and at least some of those convicted of these crimes are actually innocent.
“Sadly, the temptation to exaggerate or fabricate in rape cases has been exacerbated in the Air Force by an unhealthy climate cultivated in the wake of the Lackland sex scandal. The prosecutorial frenzy gripping the service puts enormous pressure on OSI to uncover crimes and for commanders to prefer charges. Supposed victims are harassed and intimidated into lodging complaints, often turning seemingly innocent or unintentional behavior into something awful. Some have less charitable motives, such as revenge, a desire for attention, or even financial incentives. Others undoubtedly suffer from mental disorders that cloud their judgment or memory.
“Perhaps this explains why, despite the enormous efforts to identify and prosecute MTIs accused of violent sexual crimes, only three cases resulted in conviction, one of which was later overturned on appeal. At the end of the day, all the Air Force had to show for their efforts to curb sexual assault at BMT was the imprisonment of SSgt Walker – the notorious sexual predator whose appalling crimes launched the scandal at Lackland in the first place, and MSgt Silva – the final victim of a witch-hunt that long ago ran out of criminals to persecute.”
In a clemency request to the 2 AF commander, Maj. Gen. Brown, MSgt Silva made an impassioned appeal for mercy. “I feel that my court martial guilty verdict was decided prior to it even beginning,” he wrote. “The fact that I had previously been a Military Training Instructor, resulted in my immediate connection to the current BMT sexual assault scandal and the political witchhunt began yet again.” The Lackland sex scandal “had nothing to do with me,” he asserted, noting he “never once received any negative feedback” as an MTI from either students or superiors. There is “so much political pressure to end military sexual assault and prove to Congress that the military is handling these cases,” he continued, but “what they fail to see is there are innocent service members such as myself that are falsely accused and unjustly convicted.” He ended his appeal with a quote from Thomas Aquinas: “as a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.”
“Unfortunately, Maj. Gen. Brown was not that man,” Lt. Col. Perry concluded; “he rejected this plea for clemency, much as he dismissed my earlier request for redress.”
“This portrait of Mike Silva as a sexual predator and serial rapist is wholly at odds with the man his friends, family, and coworkers knew,” Lt. Col. Perry recounted in his recent book.
“During his nine years as an MTI – first at Lackland and then at Officer Training School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama – Silva touched countless lives. Yet no other recruits ever accused him of inappropriately touching them, let alone committing such a horrific crime as rape. On the contrary, most remember him as a caring and engaged leader, who became a lifelong mentor to many of his former trainees.
“At least one of them went on to become an MTI himself, even following in Mike’s footsteps from BMT to OTS. After growing up on the ‘tough streets’ of Washington, DC, this MTI now praises the Air Force for saving his life. Gen. Welsh honored him at the Air Force Association’s Air and Space Conference in September 2015, one of several ‘heroes’ he introduced onstage. But the Chief of Staff didn’t mention that this exceptional airman considers his own MTI, then-SSgt Silva, to be a father figure who had a tremendous positive influence on his career. His own hero is now sitting in prison for crimes he likely did not commit.
“MSgt Silva’s defense attorneys had their work cut out for them at trial. They were facing an experienced Lackland prosecution team, and special victims counsels represented two of the alleged victims. Although none of their allegations was particularly convincing on its own, together they appeared to establish a pattern of crimes extending over a decade and a half. Moreover, because one of his accusers was once his trainee at BMT, this former MTI was presumed guilty by association with the scandal that had so recently gripped the Lackland community.
“Moreover, the military judge in this case seemed biased against the defendant throughout the trial. She told the jury that the inability of the former trainee to credibly answer questions was a result of fatigue rather than dishonesty. She also suggested this alleged victim may have been assaulted at a different time and place than her testimony indicated. An observer in the courtroom saw the judge making faces when defense counsel asserted her client’s innocence, and on another occasion she lost her temper with defense counsel in front of the jury. When the prosecution seemed unsure as to where one of the alleged rapes occurred, the judge declared, ‘it had to have happened somewhere.’ Such behavior was highly prejudicial to the defense, and probably prevented MSgt Silva from receiving a fair trial.
“Furthermore, critical evidence that might have exonerated MSgt Silva wasn’t available during his court-martial. For example, OSI didn’t properly interview two instructors who helped SrA Silva push the trainee flight to which an alleged victim was briefly assigned. The female MTI in charge of the ‘brother’ flight later signed an affidavit stating she had never ‘witnessed any inappropriate interactions between Mike and a female trainee,’ nor had she ever heard any gossip in the squadron to that effect. She also denied SrA Silva ever attempted to gain entry into the dorms after lights out.
“Another airman provided a sworn statement confirming he shadowed SrA Silva as he pushed this flight, his first as a member of the BMT staff before attending the MTI School. As he was not yet signed off to be with the flight by himself, he never left SrA Silva’s side during that period: ‘We would meet in the morning for Roll Call and work all day until lights out and would leave at the same time in our separate vehicles,’ he declared. He, too, denied ever seeing SrA Silva behave inappropriately. The prosecution also didn’t turn over any of the alleged victim’s medical or training records for a critical six-day period, which may have left the jury with the impression SrA Silva had access to her during that time.
“Finally, the defendant’s attorneys failed to request critical records during discovery, and they opted not to present certain evidence that might have discredited prosecution witnesses. Apparently overconfident about the outcome of the trial, they declined to put their client on the stand, likely hurting their own case. Since the verdict was announced, however, more evidence has been uncovered that casts this outcome even further into doubt.”
“Let’s begin with the simply incredible rape allegations by the BMT recruit. According to her official records, she arrived at Lackland on Wednesday, September 20, 1995, where she was initially assigned to SrA Silva’s flight in the 322 TRS. Three days later, she reported to the base hospital complaining of pain in her Achilles tendon, a preexisting condition exacerbated by running at BMT. She was issued crutches and removed from training, then presumably reassigned to medical hold across base at the 319 TRS. She returned to training in a different squadron, the 331 TRS, on September 29, but went back to the hospital and the 319 TRS the following month for other medical issues. She was ultimately discharged from BMT on November 7, after less than seven weeks in the Air Force.
“Alarmingly, it’s impossible to reconcile the trainee’s account with the extremely short period of time – only three nights – she spent in the 322 TRS before her injury. For example, she stated she was wearing physical training clothes during the initial assault, but this uniform likely wasn’t issued until Friday. Furthermore, it was standard policy in those days for an MTI of the same gender to sleep in the dormitory with the flight during their first couple of nights at BMT, meaning SrA Silva would have had no access to these trainees at that time. (He would actually have been in their brother flight’s dorm on those evenings.) She claimed she was raped again ‘a few nights after’ the initial attack, but there simply wasn’t enough time for both assaults to occur before she was removed from Silva’s flight on Saturday morning.
“This former trainee’s account of the alleged assaults doesn’t add up, either. She claimed the first attack occurred in a well-lit parking lot, just yards away from the recruit housing and training facility. She testified her MTI led her to his two-door personal vehicle (SrA Silva drove a four-door Geo Prizm back in those days), where they initially sat talking in his car. He then supposedly asked her to come around to his side of the vehicle, so she exited the passenger door and walked to the driver’s side, where she allegedly found him sitting with his pants already down. At this point, she presumably could have run away from him in this compromised position, or cry for help from the nearby squadron building. Instead, she testified she got on her knees and performed oral sex – yet incredibly, under cross-examination, this alleged victim claimed not to remember whether her assailant was circumcised or not. Finally, her MTI supposedly pulled her into the front seat of his vehicle (not an easy task for a 6’4” man in a compact car) and raped her, all while the car door remained open. He then somehow returned her to her locked and guarded dorm unnoticed.
“Her account of the second alleged rape is equally suspect. A few days later, she testified, her MTI again summoned her to come downstairs after hours, ostensibly to perform charge-of-quarter duties. He supposedly led her out to his car again, but this time he drove her somewhere. Telling her to keep her eyes closed, her assailant led her into a dark, windowless room, where she allegedly could not see anything around her. Nevertheless, he supposedly managed to brush her hair, remove her Battle Dress Uniform, rape her multiple times, and get her dressed again – all in this pitch-black environment. He then drove her back to the squadron and dropped her off at the curb outside the building, leaving her to find her own way back upstairs to her dorm. Whether this alleged incident occurred ‘at a residence,’ as the press reported, or in a supply shed near the squadron building – as the prosecution also insinuated – is anyone’s guess.
“Moreover, this former trainee’s various accounts betray a startling unfamiliarity with standard BMT procedures, reinforcing the perception she was not being entirely honest in her recollections. For instance, she claimed her MTI selected her as an element leader on her first night at BMT. That’s simply not how things are done, however; such leadership positions are not chosen on pick-up night, and it’s exceedingly unlikely an 18-year-old with no prior Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps experience would be singled out for this honor. Furthermore, she testified her bed was at the back of the dorm bay, but element leaders sleep near the MTI office, further suggesting she made this detail up. She also claimed she was called down to perform charge-of-quarter duties before the second rape, but there’s no way she would have been trained for such responsibilities so early in her BMT career. Significantly, no one could explain how this trainee managed to get in and out of her dorm without the female MTI, the dorm guards, or anyone else noticing.
“Finally, not a single witness corroborated any of the alleged victim’s statements. MSgt Silva claimed he has no recollection of this particular trainee whatsoever, and not one of the twenty trainees interviewed during the investigation remembered any unusual incidents during that time. The alleged victim accused SrA Silva of stalking her at BMT, saying he escorted her to the 331 TRS to introduce her to her new instructor, then dropped in from time to time to keep an eye on her in the 331 TRS chow hall. However, her 331 TRS instructor testified nothing like this ever happened. Moreover, the 331 TRS was located three-quarters of a mile away from the 322 TRS back in those days – not exactly a convenient detour for an MTI busy pushing a flight, with an MTI student watching his every move.
“She also claimed SrA Silva approached her at the chapel in civilian clothes, and he supposedly introduced himself to her uncle, a county sheriff who was in town visiting. However, this purported witness also denied this incident occurred, and he believed she would have told him or other authorities if she had experienced such unlawful actions by her MTI. Even more disturbing, the former trainee testified she revealed her alleged rape(s) to a doctor at the base hospital, but he refused to do anything about it. However, this physician testified that no female trainee ever reported to him she had been raped – and if anyone had made such a report, he would have notified law enforcement immediately.”
“There are numerous other inconsistencies in this alleged victim’s account. In her first statement to OSI in 2012, she denied ever telling anyone else about what happened to her at BMT, not even her mother or first husband, who she met at Lackland. During her trial, however, her mother testified her daughter did tell her about the rape when she returned home from BMT. It strains credibility that this alleged victim would have forgotten this confession, or that her mother never asked how she was dealing with this trauma over the next 17 years. The accuser later admitted to investigators she had in fact told one other person: a fellow trainee she met in the 319 TRS. Unfortunately, this potential corroborating witness had died in July 2008.
“In another bizarre twist to an already dubious tale, this alleged victim offered addition details about her brief stint in the Air Force on a Facebook page dedicated to the memory of her deceased BMT wingman. In a series of posts between 2010 and 2013, she carried on a one-sided conversation with ‘her best friend in the Air Force’ about the ‘fun times we had at our squadron,’ and ‘all our fun goofy times in the USAF.’ (‘No one messed with us,’ she wrote the dead girl’s mother in another post.)
“She made no allusions to her alleged rape until late 2011, when she complained of having bad dreams. ‘You literally stood next to me when for no reason [but] to intimidate he would show up at our squadron,’ she wrote, an apparent reference to her alleged rapist. ‘SMSGT. now what a reward for such an evil person,’ she continued, suggesting the man she believed attacked her was already an E-8. (MSgt Silva wasn’t selected for promotion to that rank until 2013, but this promotion was later red-lined due to her allegations against him.)
“Although she was medically discharged in early November 1995, this former trainee remembered spending that Thanksgiving in San Antonio with her ‘USAF Bestie.’ She said a Hispanic family “took us for the day,” treating them to a trip to the grocery store and sightseeing on the downtown River Walk. She claimed to have pictures of the two of them in their Air Force battle-dress uniforms on Thanksgiving Day, suggesting she participated in ‘Operation Home Cooking,’ a program where trainees are matched with local families for the holiday. However, the author of these posts was no longer in the service by this point, according to her official records.
“She also bragged about ‘looking sharp in our Blues’ when she and her wingman attended sporting events in town, another odd contention considering she probably wouldn’t have been issued the more formal blue uniform after fewer than four weeks of training, nor would she likely have been allowed to depart base. She repeatedly claimed to have pictures from those events packed away somewhere in her home, but she could never seem to find these keepsakes, and she never shared any photos of herself in uniform. However, family members of the deceased airman apparently have no recollection of her ever wearing blues, and she apparently never spoke of a friend who was raped at BMT.
“In her final post on this memorial page, nine months after reporting her alleged rape, she thanked her dead friend for helping her years ago, ‘when I did all I knew to do to save my USAF career and stay safe from him hurting me again. I will stay strong to change things so others are safe,’ she declared, hinting at her new calling as an advocate for survivors of military sexual trauma. She subsequently confided in other alleged victims who had made a name for themselves in the survivor community, and she began closely following the activities of Jennifer Norris, a retired airman who became an outspoken advocate for fellow rape victims, as well as the case of Ruth Moore, a Navy veteran who was awarded $405,000 in retroactive disability benefits in 2014. Given her history of mental instability and self-promotion, the prospect of cashing in as a survivor of military sexual trauma must have seemed a tempting incentive to simply invent her own victimization.
“In April 2012, she alluded to her alleged perpetrator in a comment on another Facebook page: ‘It’s been almost 18yrs ago for me and I have had a good life but like I said it will never go away and he is now a Chief Master Sgt.’ In September 2012, she volunteered additional details about her alleged assault:
“The person who sexually assaulted me was my [MTI]. When I reported it to a [doctor] at Wilford Hall Medical Center because I realized the flashbacks I was having were causing me to blackout. I told him I just needed him to tell me how to stop passing out after flashbacks because I couldn’t risk my career! He looked straight at me and said we aren’t going to talk about that. I was discharged for migraines, which the [doctor] admitted to me I didn’t meet the criteria for that diagnosis but he would recommend discharge because I wasn’t going to ruin his career. My [MTI] literally stalked me until discharge. The last thing he said to me is ‘Are you going back to your home of record?’ I stayed home for Christmas and moved away. For years, it’s affected my life. I didn’t tell anyone for many reasons after being discharged. I’ve been working on this issue to be taken care of. I recently found a promotion list, he is now a CMSgt and stationed a few hours from me. It’s taking senators to stop him now! Thanks to help at the VA I’m doing much better. They changed a diagnosis a civilian doctor gave me of bipolar disorder, realizing my symptoms were from [military sexual trauma] and [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Nightly nightmares, anxiety attacks, flashbacks and sleep deprivation is devastating to a person. Thank You God for giving me the strength to do what I said I would do the night it happened, that is not let him win and one day see that he ends up in Leavenworth. Please let everything myself and those backing me be successful in holding him responsible for his actions.”
“However, this account appears to be false in almost every detail. Her doctor testified at trial that no female trainee ever reported a rape to him. Moreover, she again described her rapist as a Chief Master Sergeant, now stationed near her home in the Pacific Northwest – a description that does not at all match MSgt Silva, who had lived in San Antonio since 2009, and was never stationed anywhere near her since she left BMT. No other airmen named ‘Silva’ was promoted to Chief that year, and none of her former MTIs ever achieved that rank, suggesting she was simply making this story up.
“The following month, she posted this on a Facebook page: ‘I was raped while active after reporting I was diagnosed within 24hrs with a medical condition I do not have. Never allowed to speak with or submit a statement to the [medical evaluation board] and appealed my discharged while my perpetrator stalked me.’ She elaborated further in March 2013: ‘I wasn’t having unprofessional or sexual conversation with my superior. Simply put, I was following orders in regulation military issued clothing. I said no, I was trying to rationalize with the person, still being professional saying sir and saying anything my shocked, scared and horrified mind could think of. I said everything I could think of, yet I was still raped.’ According to her later testimony, she was asleep and undressed before the first alleged incident.
“Ironically, in the same post she wrote, ‘To be willing to be the reason someone may be imprisoned and traumatize not only the accused but their family is again the act of an evil, sick person with no conscience.’”
“Ominously, MSgt Silva wasn’t the first person this woman accused of raping her. Prior to enlisting in the Air Force, she claimed her stepfather had sexually assaulting her as a child, and he served four years in prison for this crime. She later testified at his parole hearing in January 1996, just months after her discharge from the Air Force.
“When she divorced her first husband – an airman she met at Lackland – in 2002, she apparently claimed he was mentally and physically abusive, and implied he raped her during the marriage. However, her ex-husband was ultimately awarded custody of their five kids, suggesting the judge in this case was not convinced. She is now married to an Army veteran who she says was medically retired with 90 percent disability due to traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the years, she has frequently posted on social networking sites about the difficulties she and her family faced obtaining medical care through the VA system.
“The reliability of this alleged victim was cast further into doubt by her brief career as a psychic medium. In 2009, she advertised her services on Twitter, including ‘psychic readings and help with anything from past, present, and future,’ as well as ‘hauntings.’ She charged $60 per hour for calls to her ‘hotline,’ but she offered discounts to members who signed up on her website. As a blogger who’s been following this case sardonically noted, if this woman who waited 17 years to report a rape were truly psychic, ‘shouldn’t she have known in advance if she was about to become the victim of a horrible crime?’ When questioned about this business venture during MSgt Silva’s trial, however, she denied any involvement, further perjuring herself.
“Reading through her various social networking entries, this alleged rape victim comes across as unstable and prone to exaggeration. She claimed to have pursued a singing career in Nashville, and described herself on her Twitter profile as a ‘Country Music singer, mother, wife to my hero husband who is a wounded soldier!’ ‘My husband and I are more fortunate than the Dugars [sic],’ she wrote in a Facebook comment about a family made famous by reality television, since ‘we both don’t have to work and don’t worry about finances.’ (Although she’s given birth to seven children, she only has custody of one.) Elsewhere, she noted she liked to gamble in Las Vegas and vacation in Oahu, a lifestyle financed entirely by their government benefits.
“She also boasted of being educated in criminal justice, medicine, and psychology, and she was supposedly completing her doctorate in psychology, but she never mentioned where she went to school to earn her purported degrees. (In fact, it’s not clear she has any sort of college degree.) The only work experience she referenced, apart from her brief stint in the Air Force, was as a ‘registered nursing assistant’ for four years – but during the trial, she testified she had no medical training whatsoever. Finally, she conspiratorially claimed her seventh child was ‘killed’ in the hospital shortly after his birth in late 2011, without further elaborating as to the supposed cause or taking any apparent action to hold anyone responsible for this alleged crime. It would appear she turned this tragic loss into yet another opportunity to draw attention to herself, a disturbing pattern that has manifested itself on countless occasions throughout her troubled life.”
Sadly, this BMT trainee wasn’t the only woman who came forward alleging MSgt Silva raped her,” Lt. Col. Perry recounted in his recent book. “His first wife claimed he had sexually assaulted her during their brief marriage, while he was a C-130 crew chief at Pope AFB, North Carolina. However, she didn’t report this at the time, and in fact only accused her ex-husband of rape after OSI contacted her two decades later regarding his other alleged crimes.
“Moreover, her behavior during their marriage raised serious doubts about her reliability. According to Silva’s 1992 petition for divorce, his wife abandoned him, committed adultery, wrote bad checks, abused illegal drugs, and neglected and endangered their toddler son. Silva was awarded temporary custody, but as their divorce dragged on, the mother allegedly kidnapped their child and took him to Puerto Rico. Later that year, she was found guilty back home in Texas of two counts of theft of government property. When their divorce case finally went to trial, she refused to consent to a drug test, so the court awarded Silva full custody of their child. Thankfully, the jury in MSgt Silva’s court-martial didn’t find this alleged victim credible, and they acquitted him of her assault.
“MSgt Silva wasn’t so fortunate with the other ex-wife who accused him of rape. On May 2, 2007, this active-duty Senior Airman came into the OSI detachment at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, to report an incident that occurred on April 28. In a written statement she provided the following day, she noted she was separated from then-Technical Sergeant Silva at the time, so she went to her husband’s house that evening hoping to discuss their marital troubles. The conversation didn’t go as well as she hoped, however. As she was preparing to leave, MSgt Silva allegedly grabbed her hand, led her to the bedroom, and proceeded to sexually assault her, despite her crying and desperate pleas for him to stop. Realizing she couldn’t resist, she became submissive and reluctantly consented to intercourse, which she described as ‘agreeable to both parties.’
“Elsewhere in her statement, she conceded she didn’t think her husband knew to stop when she cried out, as if he didn’t truly hear her. On the other hand, she alleged he had done this once before during their separation, and he had also previously choked her while they engaged in sexual activity, to the point she couldn’t breathe and had to struggle to alert him to her distress. Although it was ‘very difficult to come through and report this,’ she wrote in her statement, ‘I can rest knowing that I did my part in preventing this from happening to other women.’
“TSgt Silva was called in later that day to make a statement about this incident. According to his version of events, their sexual activity that evening was entirely consensual and mutually satisfying. He claimed his wife intended to stay the night at his house, but she decided to go back to her dorm when she realized she didn’t have a change of clothes for church in the morning. Their interaction over the following days seemed amicable, he wrote, until she became upset over ownership of their car.
“The night before his wife made her first statement to OSI, she apparently called MSgt Silva’s mother and told her, ‘I’m going to ruin your son’s career.’ On the other hand, she reportedly informed the sexual assault nurse examiner who processed her rape kit that the sex was consensual. Moreover, according to notes from her original OSI interview, she told agents she took her own clothes off, said something along the lines of ‘okay’ to the sexual activity, and engaged in consensual – including oral – sex.
“On May 7, his wife returned to OSI to formally recant her allegation: ‘I do not feel after reading Article 120 [rape definition under the UCMJ] that the situation reported to OSI meets the criteria of this allegation. I consented to intamacy [sic] with Michael Silva. I only thought it necessary to report since my leadership advised it was the right steps to take. I had no intention of reporting this, I had wanted to put this behind me. [The first sergeant] asked if Mike was forceful or had aggressive behavior in intimacy. I wasn’t aware this was headed toward rape charges. I didn’t know where this fit. I know Mike has an aggressive & controlling personality, but I don’t feel that rape depicts our situation.’ OSI closed the investigation and declared her allegations unfounded, and these two were soon divorced.
“Yet nearly six years later, his ex-wife changed her story yet again. In early January 2013, she offered a series of statements to OSI that significantly differed from her earlier accounts. Admitting she had difficulty recalling everything she said earlier, she nevertheless introduced new details she hadn’t mentioned before, when the incident was presumably still fresh in her memory. This time, she accused TSgt Silva of ‘forcefully’ removing her clothing, and of stating he was trying to get her pregnant. She claimed not to recall if they engaged in oral sex, and she made no mention of discussing their plans for the next day. She lamely tried to explain away her previous statement the sex was consensual, and asserted her only regret was not being strong enough to prosecute her ex-husband back in 2007 – somehow forgetting she had freely and voluntarily recanted her allegations less than a week after making them.
“Two years later, she told yet another version of this tale on the stand during MSgt Silva’s court-martial, helping convict her ex-husband of the very crime she once definitively disavowed. Why would this woman flip-flop on such a serious issue? One possible motive is money. When she became pregnant with her second child, she applied to separate from the Air Force, but a medical evaluation board found she was eligible for retirement based on mental health treatment in connection with her alleged 2007 rape. She also convinced the VA she was a victim of military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. During the trial, however, she admitted under cross-examination that she never disclosed she had recanted her original claim. By securing her ex-husband’s conviction, she created a pretext to continue receiving these fraudulent benefits.
“After the trial, this alleged victim submitted a letter to Maj. Gen. Brown, 2 AF commander, claiming she had never been the victim of violence prior to her marriage to MSgt Silva, and that he caused her subsequent mental problems. Frankly, these were lies as well. She had indeed sought mental health treatment and claimed prior abuse before they married, and since their divorce she has enjoyed a full social and professional life. She apparently has no remorse for condemning her former husband to prison for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Just three months after the conclusion of MSgt Silva’s court-martial, Joint Base San Antonio highlighted three victims of sexual assault who were using their voices to advocate and help fellow survivors,” Lt. Col. Perry noted in his recent book. “They were featured in a full-page spread in the base paper, accompanied by a photo with a T-1 Jayhawk at JBSA-Randolph. The local Sexual Assault and Prevention Response victim advocate arranged this publicity stunt, providing these women a ‘survivors’ flight’ with the theme, ‘Soaring Over The Storm: The Survivor’s Story,’ to show solidarity for other victims.
“In this article, a Chief Master Sergeant shared her sexual assault experiences. ‘I hope that people will start having real conversations about sexual assault,’ she said in the interview. ‘Sexual assault occurs in many different ways to many different people,’ she noted. ‘There are predators that you would not expect or suspect.’ In her case, ‘a lot of people were saying, “No way, he could never have done that,” yet her alleged assailant ‘had multiple victims spanning many years.’ Nevertheless, the Chief said she had no intention of coming forward with her survivor story until after this noncommissioned officer was convicted and sentenced at a military trial at JBSA-Lackland.
“The NCO she appears to be describing is MSgt Silva, who was indeed confronted by an additional accuser during his court-martial: a Chief Master Sergeant and former MTI, who claimed the defendant sexually assaulted her over a decade earlier. While the government could not charge MSgt Silva with this particular crime due to the statute of limitations in effect at the time, they did use her salacious account to reinforce their narrative of the defendant as a violent sexual predator.
“As a former MTI in the wake of the Lackland sex scandal, MSgt Silva was undoubtedly presumed guilty by some in the courtroom – including, perhaps, the military judge who oversaw his trial. Introducing such highly prejudicial testimony from a seemingly upstanding active-duty airman likely further swayed the jury to put aside their remaining doubts about the reliability of the alleged rape victims. Under the faulty premise that, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, they appear to have convicted MSgt Silva of rape based largely on accusations of an altogether different crime, one for which he was never charged.
“This Chief actually met MSgt Silva back in 1995, when she was a trainee in his BMT squadron. (Ironically, she graduated just days before the recruit who later accused him of rape arrived at Lackland.) When she returned to BMT as an instructor in 1999, she briefly worked with SSgt Silva, but he was soon reassigned to Maxwell AFB. He would return to Lackland on business from time to time, and on one of these visits his accuser invited him to her apartment.
“There they sat on the couch as he played guitar, until she began kissing him. At this point, their stories diverge. According to her account, she became uncomfortable for some unspecified reason and asked him to leave, but he sexually assaulted her as he was exiting her apartment. MSgt Silva, on the other hand, asserts they continued talking for a while after kissing, then he left without incident.
“There are several reasons to be skeptical of the Chief’s account. First of all, there’s no evidence SSgt Silva was in town during the time frame she described – between her divorce in the summer of 2002, and the beginning of her relationship later that year with her current husband. Although SSgt Silva did come to San Antonio both before and after this period, the alleged victim may have fudged the dates to avoid the appearance of cheating on either her ex- or future husband. Furthermore, her account of the supposed assault seems highly dubious. She testified SSgt Silva pinned her to the floor and choked her in the entryway to her ground-floor apartment, with the front door standing wide open, while his guitar was slung across his back.
“Moreover, this alleged victim was unable to provide critical details of this incident. She seemed unclear as to whether she was violated orally or digitally, for example, and she could not remember whether she verbalized her objection, or if her alleged assailant said anything, or even how long the incident lasted. The special agents interviewing her noted she was unsure if her lack of memory ‘was due to the fact that she was near the point of unconsciousness because of how traumatic the event was or because the event occurred so long ago.’ They were clearly leading the witness, as the Chief had said nothing in her statement about almost blacking out or feeling traumatized by the incident.
“The Chief told her interviewers she didn’t report the incident because there was no physical evidence, so it would be her word against her alleged assailant. She also said she did not want the facts of the incident to become public knowledge among her peers and subordinates. Nevertheless, she did tell several colleagues about this incident over the years, beginning with her best friend. When questioned, however, this witness claimed she was told only that SSgt Silva choked her, not that she’d been sexually assaulted.
“The alleged victim later told another female MTI about this incident, and she claimed this colleague admitted she’d experienced a similar situation with Silva. But her confidante said nothing of the sort in her statement to OSI, and denied even knowing the defendant very well. On the other hand, she did confirm the alleged victim told her about the incident, after supposedly spotting MSgt Silva at the 2011 Blue Rope Ball. The witness wrote, ‘seeing him must have reminded her of something she had never told me before,’ prompting her to share her sordid tale. But MSgt Silva didn’t attend that event – after all, he wasn’t a Master MTI, and didn’t receive invitations to this or other Blue Rope get-togethers – so this testimony wasn’t particularly credible.
“The OSI agent conducting her initial interview observed the alleged victim was nervous about moving to the same area as MSgt Silva when she was reassigned to Lackland later that year. This seems odd, as they were previously stationed together in San Antonio between 2009 and 2011, apparently without incident. In her statement, the accuser noted her San Antonio realtor – another former MTI – mentioned MSgt Silva lived in the same neighborhood where she was house-hunting in early 2013. She supposedly said she didn’t want to live anywhere near her alleged assailant, prompting the realtor to volunteer that the defendant liked to choke girls.
“When he was questioned by OSI, however, this witness denied they had such a conversation – but he did confirm he heard rumors the defendant choked a girlfriend in the late 1990s, and he also stated Silva told him in 2001 or 2002 that his ex-wife accused him of choking her up in Wyoming. Neither of these allegations is credible, however, as OSI surely knew, since the ex-wife’s accusation didn’t happen until 2007, and the ex-girlfriend informed OSI that Silva never behaved this way towards her.
“The inconsistencies in this testimony suggest possible collusion among the witnesses, all of whom were current or former MTIs. OSI agents contacted the Chief in April 2013, after they heard rumors she may have once been romantically involved with MSgt Silva. The others witnesses weren’t interviewed until June or later, however, allowing plenty of time for the alleged victim to back-brief these corroborating witnesses. OSI may also have encouraged her to embellish her allegation with incriminating details. As we’ve seen in this and other cases, special agents are notorious for leading witnesses to confirm prosecution narratives.
“Alternately, this alleged victim may have simply made up this tale to get back at MSgt Silva for rejecting her advances back in the day. Whatever her motives, she unexpectedly showed up in MSgt Silva’s office during the investigation, presumably to discuss the allegations against him or offer support. Out of the blue, she began asking him if he remembered what he had done to her in her apartment over a decade earlier. It was later revealed she was wearing a wire during this encounter, a clumsy attempt by OSI to solicit an admission from the target of their investigation.
“The pivotal role this Chief played in MSgt Silva’s conviction has sharply divided the MTI community. She has had a phenomenally successful career in the Air Force, achieving the highest enlisted rank in a mere 17 years. Yet the man she accused was well regarded in his own right, and friends who knew them both weren’t quite sure whom to believe. Even those inclined to give this Chief the benefit of the doubt, however, have been puzzled by how she handled her sexual assault allegations. Why, for example, did she suddenly start sharing her story with colleagues in 2011, after remaining silent for nine years? Could this have anything to do with the sex scandal that was just then emerging at Lackland, with its rumors of MTI misconduct? Furthermore, why were none of the witnesses she named able to corroborate key elements of her testimony?
“Significantly, the Chief was neither a victim of nor witness to the alleged crimes for which MSgt Silva faced court-martial, and so was under no legal or ethical obligation to cooperate with investigators and prosecutors. Why, then, did she volunteer to wear a wire and take the stand during his trial? And after doing so much to seal MSgt Silva’s fate, why would she then deny having testified against him?
“Suspicions about the Chief’s true intentions only intensified following the court-martial, when she became an outspoken advocate for sexual assault survivors at Joint Base San Antonio, appearing several times in the base paper to promote awareness. Given so many troubling inconsistencies in her allegations, it’s not at all unreasonable to suspect she may have invented her story of survival at MSgt Silva’s expense.”