Air Force General Sentenced In Historic Court-Martial

A military judged sentenced an Air Force general on June 29 to a reprimand, restriction to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, for two months, and $10,000 forfeiture of pay per month for 6 months, Air Education and Training Command said in a statement. 

Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart, the first general in Air Force history to face a court-martial by jury, was found guilty earlier in the day on one count of Article 133 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, conduct unbecoming an officer for inviting a subordinate to spend the night with him; and a count of Article 92, dereliction of duty, for controlling an aircraft within 12 hours after consuming alcohol.

The eight-general panel—the military term for a jury—found Stewart not guilty of two counts of Article 120, which forbids sexual assault. Six of the eight members of the panel had to vote that Stewart was guilty of a crime in order for him to be convicted.

Earlier this week, on June 24, Stewart pleaded guilty to one count of dereliction of duty under Article 92 for pursuing an unprofessional relationship, and to one count of violating UCMJ Article 134, for having an extramarital affair.

The maximum punishment for willful dereliction of duty not resulting in death or grievous bodily harm is a bad-conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 6 months, according to the 2024 Manual for Courts-Martial. The maximum punishment for extramarital conduct is dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 1 year. 

Had he been convicted of all charges, Stewart would have faced a maximum punishment of dismissal, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 63 years, Air Education and Training Command explained. For the charges that he was found guilty, he faced the possibility of two and a half years confinement. Stewart has the right to appeal, if an automatic appeal is not triggered, AETC said.

One legal expert called the actual punishment very light, but expected Stewart will “almost certainly” be demoted to brigadier general when he retires. 

The sentence was a “missed opportunity to send a message that general officers are held to a higher standard,” said retired Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor of the Air Force.

In a statement, Stewart’s senior defense counsel, Sherilyn A. Bunn, said the verdict of not guilty for sexual assault “serves as a testament to the value of the panel system.

“From the beginning, Maj Gen Stewart maintained his innocence, confident that the truth would emerge,” Bunn added. “This case has highlighted the need for a careful and respectful approach to allegations of sexual assault.”

The trial began June 17 with administrative proceedings followed by nearly a week of jury selection where more than 13 general officers—all of whom had to outrank Stewart or have pinned on a second star before him—traveled to the courtroom at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. 

Presentation of evidence and witness testimony started June 24, including testimony from the woman who accused Stewart of sexual assault. Stewart declined to testify, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Overall, 12 witnesses testified, including Airmen, family members, friends, and digital forensics experts, according to Air Education and Training Command.

The only other Air Force general to have been court-martialed, Maj. Gen. William Cooley, was convicted of abusive sexual contact in 2022 by military judge alone. Stewart was relieved as the head of the 19th Air Force, which oversees Air Force pilot training, by Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, the head of Air Education and Training Command (AETC), on May 9, 2023.