That's how many sexual-abuse incidents involving members of the United States military were estimated to have occurred in 2012, according to the Pentagon.
It is a number as astounding as it is outrageous.
26,000 is too many.
2,600 would be too many.
260 would be too many.
26 would be too many.
And as horrifying as that 26,000 number -- up from 19,000 the previous year -- is, the truly frightening thing is a study by the Defense Department shows a climate of fear permeating our armed forces. The study, relying on anonymous surveys, revealed that "only" 3,192 assaults in 2011 and 3,374 last year were reported.
We are torn between the pride we feel in the immense sacrifice and dedication of what is often described as the finest military ever assembled and the obvious current culture of "anything goes" and looking the other way when it comes to sexual assault.
An embarrassing metaphor for the overall situation came earlier this month when Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was charged with sexual battery for -- police said -- groping a woman in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.
Lt. Col. Krusinski is the person in charge of the United States Air Force's sexual assault prevention and response program.
President Barack Obama -- under whose watch this intolerable situation is occurring, and growing -- appears to be fed up.
"Let's start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage," Obama said. "It is a crime. That's true for society at large. And if it's happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they're wearing.
"I don't want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way," he said. "If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable -- prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable."
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, has been in the forefront of those calling for a solution. She recently attended a White House conference to address the obscene statistics.
A good first step would be changing the "convening authority" law that allows a senior officer who called for a court-martial to throw out the verdict in any case of sexual assault without even providing a reason. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has proposed that change.
It's more than apparent that a sea change is required in the culture of our military. America's daughters enlist to fight for their country, not their virtue.
-- The Oneonta Daily Star