What happened at Aberdeen not isolated case, calls show Troops widely ignore ban on fraternization

November 14, 1996|By Lisa Respers and Scott Shane | Lisa Respers and Scott Shane,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Tom Bowman and JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Spurred by rape charges against two military trainers at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army set up a toll-free number last week and asked for reports of sexual misconduct. Now it's getting what it asked for: 3,102 calls as of yesterday, 341 of them deemed worthy of further investigation.

But of the scores of reports from Army bases all over the country, military officials say few involve allegations of rape. Many involve sexual harassment. And many more involve improper sexual relationships between servicemen and women of disparate rank.

Fraternization, as such prohibited relationships are called, is emerging both in the new reports and in interviews at Aberdeen as a widespread, underground problem that has grown with the number of women working alongside men in the military.

"I think fraternization is a lot more widespread than the Army would like," said David R. Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland. "Clearly, what happened at Aberdeen is not an isolated case."

When a military trainer engages in sex with a trainee, the Army treats the offense as a serious crime. At Aberdeen, in addition to the two men charged with rape, a drill sergeant faces court-martial over an alleged consensual sexual relationship with recruit.

Fraternization is also the charge likely to be placed against most of the 15 Aberdeen sergeants suspended in the continuing probe. And it is a recurring theme in the hot-line reports under further investigation, 86 of which involve allegations at Aberdeen and 255 at other bases.

Yesterday, a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri was discharged and sentenced to five months in a military jail after admitting to having sex with three female recruits.

At Fort Sam Houston in Texas, a spokesman said five drill sergeants were disciplined in August for improper behavior with female trainees during a bus trip to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. The trip involved heavy drinking, dancing and "body shots" -- in which salt, lime and tequila were sprinkled on some soldiers' necks and chests and then licked off.

Fraternization is banned partly because a superior's power over a subordinate is assumed to make the relationship coercive. Commanders also do not want the baggage of romance -- arguments, resentment, favoritism -- to interfere with discipline.

"The services, given the work they do, need to minimize the intrusion of Cupid into the workplace," said Segal. "But given that these are young people with active hormones, Cupid is going to show up anyway."

At Aberdeen's U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School, no socializing is permitted between trainees and superiors. Rules ban not only sex but also "caressing, kissing, hugging, hand holding, stroking, pinching" -- as well as playing cards, borrowing money or going out for meals.

Aberdeen trainees say that there is little time for socializing, but that intimate relationships are natural byproducts of living and working closely together.

"It's no different than being in high school or college," said Pvt. Audra Sullivan, 18, of Canon City, Colo. "Whenever you get a group of people together, something is going to happen."

Privates can date one another, but sex is banned in the barracks and public displays of affection are not allowed while in uniform. Men and women may not visit each other in their rooms.

Even before the misconduct allegations broke at Aberdeen last week, some instructors had been disciplined for inappropriate behavior with recruits, said Lt. Col. Martin T. Utzig, commander of the 143rd Ordnance Battalion.

One instructor made off-color jokes and had an improper conversation with a trainee about body-piercing, Utzig said yesterday. Another held up a cold soda can to a trainee's neck and said, "You look hot." Both were removed from teaching.

A third, a drill sergeant caught holding hands with a recruit in the barracks, was court-martialed for a prohibited relationship.

Pvt. Rene Martinez of San Luis Obispo, Calif., who graduated yesterday, said that during her four months at the school, male and female soldiers were caught alone together in rooms on a few occasions.

"You can hear the intercom system from their barracks and the drill sergeant yelling [that] those females need to get out of the males' room," Martinez said.

Not all of the blame for improper relationships should go to men, some Aberdeen trainers say.

"There has been the impression that the female soldiers are in fear for their lives because of the drill sergeants, and that is just not true," said Drill Sgt. Mariana Shorter, 34. "Some of the females are not the innocent victims the media has portrayed them to be."

Shorter said trainers faced a recurrent problem last summer with female soldiers wearing provocative clothing on base.

"We had to tell some of the young ladies that you cannot walk around with no bra on or with 'Daisy Duke' shorts with no underwear," she said, referring to a character on the "Dukes of JTC Hazzard" television show who wore skimpy shorts.

"We're in an environment where we, as women, are outnumbered. So why walk around and make yourself vulnerable?"

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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