The Air Force has grounded a high-ranking pilot on charges that he engaged in a homosexual act after learning he was infected with the AIDS virus, a McClellan Air Force Base spokesman said.
Other charges against Lt. Col. David Eckert, 43, include sodomy, indecent acts, theft and conduct unbecoming an officer, spokesman Lt. Col. Duane Roberts said Thursday.
Roberts said Eckert is accused of “endangering life with sexual activity after being diagnosed as HIV-positive” in what may be the first AIDS-related case involving a high-ranking military officer.
Air Force investigators are now trying to determine if there is enough evidence to hold a court-martial, Roberts said. No other military person has been charged since all of the alleged acts occurred off base, he said.
Eckert’s civilian attorney, Leo Donahue, said Eckert denies the Air Force charges, which were filed Aug. 12 by his immediate superior.
“There is no foundation,” Donahue said. “They’re going to have major, major problems with the credibility of their witnesses. He (Eckert) has got 19 1/2 years with an unblemished record.”
Eckert, married and the father of two teen-age daughters, is an air commander on a WC-135 jet, a military version of the Boeing 707. His 55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron has a mission of detecting nuclear debris in the atmosphere in support of the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
The officer was relieved of flying duties May 13 and reassigned to a base office job, still on active duty, Roberts said.
A native of Texas City, Tex., Eckert joined the Air Force in February, 1969. He came to McClellan in July, 1985. Donahue said Eckert, a former seminary student with a master’s degree in human relations, underwent counseling for several years after suspecting that he was homosexual. In 1986, he decided to live apart from his family, which he later rejoined.
“He’s got a male roommate, went to gay restaurants, got into the gay life style but did not have sex,” Donahue said.
He said Eckert “still doesn’t know if he’s gay” and does not know how he contracted the AIDS virus.
He said the pilot had hoped for an early medical retirement until the Air Force filed charges against him.
The Air Force sent him to a military hospital in San Antonio, where he was found to have the AIDS virus.