This was supposed to be an ordinary day of briefings and learning their way around Aberdeen Proving Ground, but for the 59 soldiers fresh out of basic training, there was no ignoring the sexual misconduct probe sweeping the base.
"I've been worried," Pvt. Rebecca Kleba, 19, of Des Moines, Iowa, said during a two-minute break yesterday.
"We came here to concentrate on our training, and all this is happening. Now all that's been on our minds is worrying about our securities."
The group -- new members of the 16th Ordnance Battalion -- was the first class to arrive at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School since Army officials announced an investigation into allegations of female soldiers being raped and sexually exploited by trainers.
Dressed in fatigues and carrying duffel bags, they sat in rows in a classroom setting and learned about some of the school's rules: Don't smoke, don't shoplift and expect to be held to a higher standard than in basic training.
They also heard about sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
Female soldiers were told to avoid going to deserted areas with men, walking alone at night, and abusing drugs and alcohol -- which could leave them unable to defend themselves if attacked. All of the soldiers were advised to adhere to the Army's "battle buddy" system -- always going in pairs to meetings with superiors.
When talk turned to the issue of rape, the eight female soldiers in the group were hustled into a separate room to receive prevention tips from the battalion commander while their male counterparts got a lecture on the crime.
"I have my executive officer give a different talk to the guys, and we bring the females out because sometimes the language that is used is inappropriate for the women to hear," said battalion commander Lt. Col. Don Hogge. "Sometimes the slang words that men have for women out on the streets are used, and we take the females out to avoid them having to hear that."
For some of the new soldiers -- greeted by camera flashes, anxious reporters and television crews -- the investigation and surrounding news media attention have added to the stress of their transition from basic to advanced training.
"I just wish you guys would go away," said Pvt. Jeannie McCaw, 19, from Puyallup, Wash. "It's so distracting with reporters jumping out from behind trees and shoving microphones in your faces for comment."
Hogge -- who told students that the school has "some of the finest drill sergeants and instructors in the country" despite the allegations -- said briefings of new soldiers have not changed, with one exception.
Each recruit now is shown a videotape on rape prevention within 24 hours of arriving at the base.
"Things are proceeding along as normally as possible," Hogge said. "We are trying to go about it as business as usual."
Both McCaw and Kleba said they have had no problems with male soldiers or superiors. McCaw, a second-generation soldier, said male soldiers treat the women "like we are one of them."
"My dad told me that I was going to have to pull my own weight, and that's how the guys treat us -- like equals," McCaw said. "They joke around with us like there are no females around, but we know that they are jokes and no one ever crosses the line."
As Hogge paced the room, the recruits listened intently to his instructions.
"I know a lot of you are fresh off the block and out there women have been called all kinds of names," he barked. "Here there is only one name for them and that is 'soldier.' "
Pub Date: 11/13/96