2 Aberdeen Army trainers charged in rape of recruits Captain, sergeant face courts-martial in widening inquiry

'Worst I've come across'

Third soldier also faces military trial on lesser charges

November 08, 1996|By Jay Apperson, Tom Bowman and Lisa Respers | Jay Apperson, Tom Bowman and Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers JoAnna Daemmrich, Scott Shane, Robert A. Erlandson, Mary Maushard and Elaine Tassy, and research librarian Jean Packard contributed to this article.

Two Army trainers at Aberdeen Proving Ground have been charged with rape and other sexual offenses in a widening investigation that so far involves accusations from more than a dozen female recruits.

As many as 1,000 women who trained at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School since January 1995 are being questioned at bases all over the world where they reported after the program, Army officials said yesterday.

The allegations prompted the Army to announce servicewide sexual harassment training and to investigate other commands in an apparent effort to avoid the kind of repercussions faced by the Navy after the infamous 1991 Tailhook episode.

"This type of conduct strikes at the heart of our ability to provide safe and effective training for America's sons and daughters," said Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, commander of the school, who has been in the military for three decades and could recall no similar case involving so many Army personnel. "This is the worst thing I've ever come across."

Facing courts-martial are Capt. Derrick Robertson, 30, of Joppatowne, who is charged with rape, adultery -- which is a crime under military law -- and obstruction of justice; and Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, 31, of Edgewood, charged with rape, forcible sodomy, adultery and obstruction of justice. Staff Sgt. Nathanael Beach, charged with obstruction of justice, improper relationship with a student and disobeying an order, also faces a court-martial. Two other Army trainers are receiving nonjudicial punishment for lesser offenses against the women recruits.

Simpson is being held at the Marine brig in Quantico, Va. The other two trainers are free while awaiting trial.

Army investigators have questioned 19 women who have gone absent without leave from Aberdeen in recent months, and some have said they fled because of intimidation from trainers, officials said.

Army officials said additional trainers may face charges in the investigation, which began in September when a recruit told Army investigators that she had been raped.

In an interview last night at his rented house, Robertson denied the rape charge but acknowledged that he had had an improper relationship with a woman this year that lasted for about a month.

"It began with her telling me how much she admired me, how compassionate I am and how she wanted to be with me and be in my life " said Robertson, who was dressed in fatigues and black Army boots. "I engaged in an improper relationship forbidden by regulations with her and that was it."

As to the rape charge, Robertson said: "It's a three-letter word, 'L-I-E,' lie." He said of his accuser, "She's made up a story out of anger, and now she's sticking to it."

An East Texas native who has been in the Army for 11 years, Robertson arrived at the school in December 1995 and is a company commander. He was placed on administrative leave in September, shortly after the investigation began.

"I was relieved of my command and rightfully so," Robertson said. "I crossed the line. I regret that I caused the negative attention to the United States Army."

Robertson said he is separated and in the midst of a divorce; neighbors said his wife and two daughters left in August to return to Texas.

The Aberdeen-based center is designed to give recruits three to eight weeks of training in mechanical maintenance of Army equipment, including small arms, vehicles and generators. About recruits, about 20 percent of them female, are trained by the 345 instructors each year.

The average age of the recruits is 21. Their instruction follows Army boot camp.

"We will continue to run down every lead at Aberdeen," Gen. William W. Hartzog said at a news conference at the Fort Monroe, Va., headquarters of the Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees all Army training. "America deserves better than this. Our soldiers deserve better than this and our Army is better than this."

Pvt. Kelly Ressegue of Elmwood Park, N.J., who is studying generator repair at Aberdeen, said that she and others were briefed repeatedly in recent weeks about sexual harassment issues.

She said she does not feel intimidated by the atmosphere at the school. But she added: "There is a military bearing we're supposed to uphold as soldiers in the United States Army."

Pvt. Luciana Rodriguez of Houston said she could understand how harassment could develop. "If you're like me, you might say, 'This is the Army. I'm going to try to do everything I can to stay here.' "

Stephanie Sites, who runs a sexual assault counseling program sometimes used by women from Aberdeen Proving Ground, said the military hierarchy can be abused to victimize women.

"If these are new recruits to the military, they've just come out of basic training and they've had it drilled into them that their superiors are God," said Sites, executive director of the Sexual -- Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center in Bel Air.

She said she was not aware of any pattern of complaints from trainees at the base.

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