An Air Force Academy captain faces up to three months in jail after pleading guilty to sexual exploitation of a child in an online sting operation.
Capt. Paul Sikkema, 29, who served as an instructor at the school, also faces 10 years of supervised probation and must register as a sex offender, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said Tuesday.
“No person is above the law, including a commissioned Air Force officer who teaches — wait for it — ethics to future officers,” Brauchler said in an email. “This conduct is shameful for the perpetrator and embarrassing for our phenomenal Air Force Academy.”
Sikkema attracted the attention of authorities when he encountered an Arapahoe County sheriff’s deputy posing as a 14-year-old girl in an online chat room.
“Sikkema continued to correspond with the investigator, sharing photos and texts that described explicit sexual conduct and proposed a meeting,” Brauchler’s office said.
Sikkema was arrested in April on the exploitation charge.
A 2012 graduate of the academy, Sikkema was one of the school’s stars, earning top honors from its philosophy department.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in 2014 from Georgia State University with a thesis that supported American combat methods, including drone warfare.
“While some contend that targeted killing is a clear violation of law, others argue that it is the law that should adapt to its modern context,” Sikkema wrote. “In this thesis, I argue in favor of the latter.”
Sikkema worked as an intelligence officer in the Air Force before returning to the academy in 2017 as an instructor. The teaching slots are reserved for the service’s brightest officers.
He was suspended from the teaching job upon his arrest. The academy on Tuesday said leaders were awaiting Sikkema’s court papers from Arapahoe County to determine his military future.
In general, felony crime conviction will get an officer removed from the service. Felony convictions also result in the loss of security clearances.
Sikkema had been seen as one of the Air Force’s top young thinkers. He wrote articles, including one that argued tactics used in the Middle East pushed teens from military service.
“We’ve been dropping bombs in the Middle East for fifteen years, and there’s no end in sight,” he wrote in 2016. “Even if we completely owned and secured Iraq, the ideology and threat of terror would simply move elsewhere.”
Amid that backdrop, Brauchler said, Sikkema was also a sexual predator.
“Predators are always looking for young, vulnerable victims,” Brauchler said. “Our ability to identify and quickly stop them is directly related to the funding we have for our Internet Crimes Against Children team. We are proud to work with them and prosecute those who target our children.”
Sikkema is set for sentencing in December, Brauchler said.