'Disgusting' words spur probe of Meade colonel

December 03, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The 1st U.S. Army inspector general's office is investigating allegations that Col. Robert G. Morris III, the garrison commander of Fort Meade, used profanity and told lurid stories about Army nurses during briefings in front of hundreds of civilian workers.

An anonymous letter sent to the Defense Department last month prompted the investigation, said Lt. Col. Baxter Ennis, a 1st Army spokesman, who confirmed the probe yesterday.

The letter, from "a concerned soldier," also was sent to The Sun. It details the incidents, which allegedly occurred during meetings at the Post Theater in August and at the Officers Club in September.

"I am writing to you on behalf of myself and others at Ft. Meade which are deeply offended and upset at the sexual harassment and other disgusting talks of the garrison commander," says the one-page letter from a "concerned soldier."

The language included scatological terms and crude sexual references, the letter said.

"This is hard to write because the situation goes on and on and nobody will help," the letter continues. "I have talked to my chain of command who said it was 'troubling.' "

Colonel Morris commands the military garrison of 300 soldiers at Fort Meade and more than 20 military units that are tenants at the post, where there are also about 5,000 civilian employees. The 25,000 employees of the top-secret National Security Agency on the base are under a different command.

Officials at Fort Meade issued a brief statement yesterday that said Colonel Morris "does not care to comment at this time" because of the continuing investigation. In the statement, the colonel denied that any of his language "constitutes sexual harassment."

But it also quoted the colonel as apologizing to civilian workers during a series of meetings in the theater Wednesday for any "inappropriate" language.

"It has come to my attention that during my first work force briefing in August, someone considered my language inappropriate," the colonel said in the statement. "If any of you felt offended, I apologize."

Attempts to reach the colonel were unsuccessful.

The letter that triggered the Army probe also complained about a second talk in September about the Persian Gulf war.

"I heard that Col. Morris was told not to use such words anymore, but on Sept. 22nd he gave a mandatory talk on the war at the Ft. Meade Officer's Club where he went even further," the letter says.

"Sir, you must believe me that everyone was shocked," the letter continues. "He told sexual stories of nurses in the war and shocked us more. . . . We kept expecting Col. Morris to stop and apologize or someone to tell him to stop. But nobody did."

The letter also charged that Colonel Morris' use of profanity and constant yelling prompted his secretary, Peggy Mitchell, to leave. She now works for the provost marshal, or police chief, and would not comment.

Colonel Morris, 45, took over command at Fort Meade in July.

Vulgar language is not acceptable for military officers, according to one senior Army official familiar with some of the alleged incidents.

"It is not appropriate use for a professional," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The official said he and other soldiers are permitted to use such language in small gatherings of friends but that "it would be highly unlikely" in front of a large group, especially a civilian audience.

Colonel Ennis said the Army investigation is expected to take 10 days to two weeks.

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