The Army's challenge Sexual harassment: Military atmosphere must be professional, but tough.

November 16, 1996

DRILL INSTRUCTORS are not supposed to be anybody's best friend as they perform the essential work of turning raw recruits into hardened soldiers. So when a call goes out for women soldiers to report any sexual harassment they may have encountered during training, there is always a risk that some will take the opportunity to get back at an authority figure whose job is to be loathed by his underlings.

And yet the abuse of authority, especially abuse that entails rape and other forcible sexual activity, is such a serious breach of professionalism that no fighting force can ignore it without paying a price in low morale, poor performance and, ultimately, damage to the overall effectiveness of the force.

In short, the challenge now facing the Army in rooting out sexual harassment in its ranks is enormous. If the Army is to be all that it can be, then it must create an atmosphere in which all its personnel are encouraged to perform at the highest levels. That goal is unreachable when abuse of authority is tolerated.

The Army must also ensure that every soldier, from recruit to commander, has the skills and stamina that will give him or her the best chance of surviving the work of war. That means training has to be tough and, sometimes, even distastefully so.

Contrary to those who have always wanted to find reasons that women cannot serve honorably in the armed forces, rooting out and seriously punishing sexual abuse in the military is not "sissyfying" the force. It is, rather, an important exercise in demonstrating that the authority invested in commanders at all levels is a trust that cannot be broken without dire consequences to the success of the mission.

On the other hand, recruits need to recognize the difference between a criminal abuse of power and the necessary brutishness of training that is essential to work in which their survival can be at stake. Sorting through the allegations that are pouring in will in many cases require the wisdom of Solomon, especially when available evidence is little more than "he said, she said."

Even so, this is necessary work for all the services. If they are to take full advantage of the considerable skills of women in uniform, there can be no toleration of sexual harassment.

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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