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Originally published Friday, April 26, 2013 at 11:46 AM

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Air Force secretary stepping down after 5 years

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley will step down after a five-year tenure during which he improved the service's handling of nuclear materials, but had to deal with scandals surrounding aircraft contracts, sexual assaults by service members and the mishandling of war dead.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON —

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley will step down after a five-year tenure during which he improved the service's handling of nuclear materials, but had to deal with scandals surrounding aircraft contracts, sexual assaults by service members and the mishandling of war dead.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Friday that Donley is returning to private life. His last day on the job is June 21.

"His leadership came during a challenging time for the Air Force, and he helped instill a culture of responsibility, initiative, and professionalism to the service," Hagel said.

Donley was serving as the Pentagon's director of administration in 2008 when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the Air Force's chief of staff and secretary amid an embarrassing series of nuclear-related errors. Gates then tapped Donley to take the Air Force post, and he led the effort to restore the Air Force's relationship with top Pentagon leaders.

Over that same time, he has helped direct the service's transformation to a greater reliance on unmanned aircraft, now a critical element in the nation's warfighting capabilities.

While Donley worked to get the nuclear mission back on track, he also became mired in the troubled task to resolve disputes that repeatedly stalled the Air Force's contract to replace its aging fleet of refueling tankers. After repeated stumbles, including the criminal conviction of a Defense Department official and an initial contract award that was overturned, the Air Force in 2011 successfully gave the contract to Chicago-based Boeing Co.

Later that year, however, Donley faced criticism over a gruesome series of revelations about the mishandling of the nation's war dead at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary in Delaware. A review found that workers lost body parts of servicemen returning from Afghanistan and that some cremated remains were dumped in an area landfill.

More recently, the service has been hounded by sexual assault scandals, including an investigation that found that 32 military training instructors allegedly engaged in inappropriate or coercive sexual relationships with 59 recruits and airmen at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. While increased instances of sexual assault and harassment have been spread widely across the services, the Air Force came under fire from Congress members this year after a senior officer overturned a guilty verdict in an assault case.

Hagel has recommended changing the law to largely strip military commanders of the ability to reverse criminal convictions.

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