Remember the Space Force?
No, not the Netflix comedy series featuring Steve Carrell. We're talking about the smallest and youngest branch of the US military, established under the Trump administration.
It's the world's only military branch of its kind, tasked with overseeing everything from military satellites to top-secret spaceplanes. And as it turns out, Netflix's 2020 show may have a lot more in common with the real thing than we ever imagined.
As the Air Force Times reports, the head of the Space Warfighting Analysis Center of the United States Space Force Andrew Cox has been engaged in what sounds like astonishingly inappropriate workplace behavior — antics that are uncomfortably similar to Carrell's infamous "The Office" character Michael Scott. If you think we're exaggerating, a 2020 investigation by the Air Force inspector general into Cox's behavior reads almost exactly like an episode of "The Office," right down to the "that's what she said" jokes.
Similarities aside, the revelations paint a startling picture of the internal workings of the Space Security and Defense Program (SSDP) — a professional environment that sounds more like a frat house than a regimented operation of a Pentagon branch.
According to the report, Cox, who was director of the SSPD at the time, "received a silver case filled with sex toys and other paraphernalia" at a holiday party years before the Space Force was established. As time went on, Cox would sometimes bring the sex toys out during important meetings.
"When I turned around at one point, I saw the director had removed a pair of handcuffs and was dangling them in his hands," a female interviewee told the inspector general's office, as quoted by Air Force Times.
"I do remember hearing another ‘grrr’ purring sound from Mr. Di Pentino… I never heard anyone suggest that they should talk about something else or change the topic," she added, referring to former SSDP director of advanced concepts Frank Di Pentino, who was reportedly complicit in Cox's antics.
"He has a leadership style where he likes to bring everybody in, kind of take the problem apart... and have lots of people in the room," another unidentified person told the publication. "When he’s not talking business, [he] is... acting like a 13-year-old boy."
In 2018, Cox went as far as to wear a "mankini" over his clothes, a skimpy one-piece bathing suit featured in the 2006 mockumentary "Borat."
Despite numerous claims of unprofessional behavior and misconduct, Cox stayed on at the Space Force as a senior employee. In fact, he got a considerable promotion in April 2021, within the same month of the release of the inspector general's report on his behavior.
"[His] conduct was improper and unsuitable [and] compromised his standing as a senior executive service civilian," the investigation concluded.
Cox got away with a slap on the wrist: a letter of reprimand, which meant he lost out on a more than $27,000 bonus.
None of that bodes particularly well, especially considering the US military's troubling track record. According to a 2018 meta-analysis, nearly one in four servicewomen reports experiencing sexual assault in the military. More than half experience harassment.
The reality is that many of these cases remain unreported and the offending parties are rarely held to account, a reminder that the work culture in the US military leaves much to be desired.
READ MORE: Space Force official kept job after IG investigated sex toys at work [Air Force Times]
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