A bitter indoctrination for female recruits It's protect self first where women train beside drill sergeants

November 28, 1996|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and JoAnna Daemmrich | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- They joined the Army to defend their country, but quickly found they had to protect themselves first.

During their initial weeks in uniform last spring, the 104 female recruits of Alpha Company of the 1st Battalion of the 61st Infantry came face to face with rogue drill sergeants.

Marching through the mud in the pre-dawn darkness, they had to chant along as drill instructors called out obscene and vulgar cadences, several recall. Among the tamer lyrics: "Two by two, we did it to you -- in the day room" and "Four by four, she was begging for more -- in the day room."

"There are these anti-female cadences you sing in the morning," says one female soldier, who asked not to be named. "Everything was rude and crude. It was really an eye-opener."

And in the midst of their rigorous eight-week introduction to Army life, five of the women came forward to accuse two drill sergeants of sexual harassment. They said they had been subjected to lewd remarks, fondling and kissing by the very superiors training them to become soldiers.

Fort Jackson, home to one of the Army's three drill sergeant schools and a wide range of training courses for soldiers and officers, offers a glimpse into the sexual harassment problem the service is grappling with, particularly in the wake of allegations at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Sixty percent of the women who join the Army receive basic training at Fort Jackson, a 52,300-acre post that processes 40,000 recruits each year. Many go on to the Army Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen, where allegations of sexual misconduct have triggered a broad investigation by military leaders.

Pvt. Jennifer M. Robicheaux, 20, a track vehicle mechanic who went through basic training at Fort Jackson and received additional training at Aberdeen, says: "The situation was worse [at Fort Jackson]. I got the impression that a lot of the incidents were forced; whereas at Aberdeen, I got the impression a lot was consensual."

Army officials acknowledge some problems at Fort Jackson, and say they have changed some policies after the spring incidents and disciplinary action against the two drill sergeants.

Col. Christopher Rockwell, commander of the 4th Training Brigade, which includes Alpha Company, says bawdy cadences are outlawed and subject to disciplinary action.

"Is it possible? Yes. Do we tolerate it? No," he says. Given the drill sergeants' breaches of fraternization rules, he adds, "it is not unreasonable leap to assume they might have used foul language."

While the two sergeants' conduct was being investigated and they were still with the unit, female soldiers in Alpha Company were ordered to double guard their dormitory doors overnight for greater security. Some presumed that the danger was from the drill sergeants.

Alpha Company commander Capt. Glen Kunter says the order was related to reports of an intruder at the camp. "Yes, we did put more soldiers on guard, both male and female, to ensure that nobody could come in [to the barracks]."

Robicheaux, now stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas, recalls being instructed to make sure that the blinds were drawn and the windows closed at night once the investigation began. Her drill instructor was worried about the safety of the women, she says.

Another female soldier recalls being told, "If you see these drill sergeants . . . run.

"The whole way it was handled was very insensitive," says the woman, who went on to advanced training at Aberdeen.

Says Kunter: "I didn't tell any soldier if they saw either of these drill sergeants to run away from them."

Both of the accused sergeants -- whom the Army would not identify -- were stripped of their drill sergeant status. One was administratively separated from the Army. The other was given a general officer memorandum of reprimand, a career-ending rebuke.

Between October 1994 and November 1996, 87 allegations of rape or other sexual misconduct were lodged at Fort Jackson. Of the total, 51 involved military trainees as victims, and 33 validated charges involved drill sergeants.

More recently, at least 85 of the accusations made on a special crisis hot line at Aberdeen have been referred back to Fort Jackson for criminal investigation.

The base's top legal officer, staff judge advocate Col. Kenneth Clevenger, says the allegations will be investigated but it is too early to say how many will result in courts-martial.

"We know there is something to be concerned about," he says. "My view is, I want to know about all the fire. I want to be able to fix it."

It was at Fort Jackson that the Army first introduced gender-integrated basic training in a 1991 pilot program.

The base commander during that pilot and the transition to full integration of the training programs in 1993 was Maj. Gen. Richard S. Siegfried. Now retired, he has been recalled to active duty by Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. to head a special review panel on sexual harassment.

Fort Jackson's drill sergeant school processes about 500 students yearly -- with only about 10 per cent of applicants accepted -- teaching them how to behave as some of the most powerful figures in uniform.

From reveille to lights out, the drill sergeant controls every move of the recruit or trainee, deliberately creating an unequal relationship. Because of that imbalance, drill sergeants are forbidden to associate with their recruits or trainees outside of the training program.

In charge of their training here is Command Sgt. Maj. Chester A. Perry, 47, a gray-haired veteran of 27 years' service, including two combat tours in Vietnam.

"I don't have to change my school," he says. "We have the right rules and regulations. We have focused on sexual harassment and training abuse.

"About 98 percent of these people go out and do a wonderful job and there is no problem. But you have the 2 percent, and that's what you keep reading about every day."

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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