Sex scandal at Proving Ground Investigation at Aberdeen: Army reacted swiftly, but must find if a cover-up occurred.

November 12, 1996

THE U.S. ARMY is saying and doing the right things in responding to the disturbing charges of rape and sexual harassment that have exploded like a buried mine at the Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, the school's commander, and other Army brass seem to understand that the public will not condone such misconduct. Sex- and race-related abuses once ignored in the insular worlds of a military base or a corporate headquarters will no longer be tolerated. The women at the Army school for equipment maintenance were especially vulnerable, as young enlistees looking up to older instructors in a military culture.

With possibly 19 female victims identified, three male officers criminally charged, two officers given lesser administrative punishments and 15 others transferred from the school thus far, the Aberdeen allegations constitute a tragedy on both institutional and personal levels. As the general who heads the Army's Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va. noted, the service recruits young people and has a deep obligation to their families to ensure their well-being.

This is an embarrassment for the Army, which has largely avoided image problems related to sex harassment that have dogged the Navy since the 1991 Tailhook debacle. This is a tragedy locally, too: Aberdeen Proving Ground dodged base-closing bullets to remain a vital employer of 12,000 people in Harford County.

The Army seems to have grasped the severity of the situation. The 800 number it set up to gather leads rang non-stop through the weekend. The Army is questioning 1,000 women trained at the school the past two years, it has created a buddy system and it is instituting sensitivity training. The main question to be answered is how so many women could be victimized over an extended period without superiors learning about it and taking action. Solving that puzzle and punishing those involved and those who acquiesced will help scrub away the stain that has settled on the Army and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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