Air Force 2-star accused of sexual assault won’t be allowed to retire

by Tommy Grant

An Air Force two-star general who sought to retire in lieu of facing court-martial on sexual assault and other charges has had his request denied.

Maj. Gen. Phillip Stewart is scheduled to appear in military court June 17 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Stewart in January filed paperwork with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall asking to retire as his case was headed to arraignment, but that request was denied in February, Sherilyn Bunn, one of Stewart’s civilian lawyers, told Air Force Times.

Stewart, the Air Force’s former pilot training boss, faces charges that he assaulted a woman at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma, in April 2023. He also faces accusations that he pursued an unprofessional relationship and flew a plane within 12 hours of consuming alcohol. He pleaded not guilty on all charges in March and his attorneys have said the sex was consensual.

Stewart is the second Air Force general officer to face court-martial for sexual assault. He will be tried by a jury of his peers — a panel of two-, three- and four-star generals who have served in uniform at least as long as he has.

Stewart was in charge of 19th Air Force, where he oversaw pilot training, 32,000 employees and more than 1,500 aircraft, when he was fired by Air Education and Training Command boss Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson in May 2023 amid a misconduct investigation. He was charged in September with two counts of sexual assault under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; two counts of dereliction of duty under Article 92; one count of conduct unbecoming of an officer under Article 133; and one count of extramarital sexual conduct under Article 134.

Lawyers for Stewart have said that Col. Brian Thompson, the military judge who presided over Stewart’s preliminary Article 32 hearing, recommended Robinson not pursue a court-martial in favor of administrative discipline.

“It’s really frustrating that the Air Force has continued ignoring the evidence and conclusions from the Article 32 preliminary hearing officer, especially when he’s a seasoned judge with decades of military law experience,” Bunn said in a statement. “It’s troubling to see his findings and advice seemingly disregarded — but the reason is pretty obvious. Senior leaders today are influenced more by their own fear of public backlash — and their own aversion to risk — than they are by the facts at hand.”

Stewart faces a minimum sentence of dismissal or dishonorable discharge, or up to 66 years in confinement and forfeiture of pay, if convicted.

Courtney Mabeus-Brown is the senior reporter at Air Force Times. She is an award-winning journalist who previously covered the military for Navy Times and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy and more.

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