Navy, Air Force training examined in wake of probe Aberdeen allegations prompt Perry's order

November 13, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Tom Bowman | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Shock waves from the suspected sexual abuse of female trainees at an Aberdeen Proving Ground school spread beyond the Army yesterday to the Navy and the Air Force.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry and his deputy, John White, ordered the secretaries of the Navy and the Air Force to follow the Army in examining their services' training programs for any hint of sexual harassment.

They initially gave the order orally to Navy Secretary John H. Dalton and Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Widnall. A follow-up letter, expected to be delivered today, orders the two to report how their services have communicated the Pentagon's "resolve not to tolerate sexual harassment or unprofessional relationships at any level of command," and how effective the communications have been.

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said: "We just want to make sure the other services take precautionary looks at this. We don't have any evidence that there are comparable problems in the other services."

Bacon said the training program reviews were ordered "with view to making sure there is adequate screening of complaints, and there are adequate efforts to establish, to find out, if there are similar problems" in the Navy and the Air Force.

After charges of rape, sodomy and prohibited personal relationships were announced last week at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School at APG, the Army began investigating other installations under its Training and Doctrine Command for such problems. So far, 20 soldiers have been charged, disciplined or reassigned.

Meanwhile, the Army announced yesterday another round of sexual misconduct charges, this time at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

At a court-martial yesterday, a sergeant pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with three female recruits and trying to have sex with another.

He and two other noncommissioned officers were accused of charges ranging from consensual sexual intercourse to indecent assault, which amounted to touching recruits. At least seven others have been suspended. Military regulations prohibit personal relationships between superiors and subordinates.

The alleged incidents of misconduct occurred at separate times between the summers of 1995 and 1996 and appear unrelated to each other, officials said.

Other cases of misconduct also are under investigation, said officials at the base, where some 25,000 soldiers arrive each year to learn engineering skills. Women account for upward of 30 percent of each class of trainees.

At Aberdeen, three Army trainers -- a captain and two drill sergeants -- are expected to face courts-martial for charges ranging from rape, sodomy and an improper relationship with female recruits at the Ordnance Center. Two others face administrative penalties.

Another 15 trainers at the base have been suspended as a result of the investigation, with sources saying that at least two more drill sergeants are expected to face courts-martial.

About 20 percent of the 11,000 soldiers who arrive at the center each year are women. The school provides instruction in mechanical maintenance for small arms, vehicles and generators. Army officials are interviewing some 1,000 women who trained at the school as far back as January 1995 -- a time when the accused trainers arrived at Aberdeen.

As of yesterday afternoon, 2,474 calls had come into the toll-free Army hot line set up to report sexual misconduct. Of the calls, 365 were passed to investigators. Seventy-one of those related to APG and 164 to other sites. The phone number is (800) 903-4241.

Also yesterday, Rep. Patricia Schroeder, a Colorado Democrat, and three other congresswomen sent a letter to the Army requesting a meeting to discuss problems at Aberdeen. Congress has no other plans to hold hearings on the issue before its return in January.

"The overwhelming number of phone calls received by the Army's hot line substantiates a concern over sexual assault and harassment that goes far beyond the gates at Aberdeen," wrote the women, who include Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Maryland Republican. "It appears the chain of command may have overlooked reports of wrongdoing or created a permissive environment."

In another Aberdeen-related case, a former civilian security guard at the base is to go to federal court this month to argue that she should be compensated for being sexually harassed on the job.

The Army has acknowledged that Cecelia Marie Port of Abingdon was sexually harassed in 1992 and 1993 while working as a security guard at the proving ground, and that her superiors knew of the harassment but failed to stop it, court records show.

Port complained that male guards refused to allow her to leave her post so she could go to the bathroom, made sexist and lewd remarks toward her and threatened her. She also said she was subjected to groping.

XTC Port was awarded back pay but rejected the Army's $20,000 offer for damages. Her sexual harassment and discrimination case is scheduled to be heard Nov. 25 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. She is seeking $300,000 in damages and additional back pay.

Pub Date: 11/13/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.