Chain of command is faulted in Aberdeen sexual misconduct Top general says investigation seeks the broken links

December 19, 1996|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Surprised by the seriousness of sexual misconduct charges that have erupted at an Aberdeen Proving Ground school, the Army's top uniformed officer says the chain of command there failed -- but he is uncertain how high the problem goes.

"There's a certain portion of the chain of command that failed," Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, the chief of staff, said yesterday in a meeting with reporters. "I don't know how much. That's one of the issues we're looking at."

Reimer indicated that the school's Virginia-based commander, Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, may not have been to blame, pointing to a busy schedule and other responsibilities within the Training and Doctrine Command besides overseeing recruits at Aberdeen.

"There are people below him that handle that type of thing. I think you just have to look at the responsibilities we've given all of those people and figure out who should have known about this issue," Reimer said, noting that the Army inspector general's office is trying to determine who was at fault within the school's chain of command.

Personnel cuts may have contributed to the problem, Reimer said. Officers and sergeants are handling more recruits and there have been reductions in the number of chaplains, whom victims often turn to for help.

"We're looking now at how much we've cut and how fast we've cut," the general said, in his first extended remarks on the scandal since the allegations of rape, sodomy and other misconduct broke Nov. 7.

At the same time, Reimer called sexual harassment "an Army-wide problem," adding that next spring the Army plans to implement a training program called "Consideration for Others." Under the program, begun at West Point, male and female soldiers break into groups and discuss topics such as harassment.

The general said the Army's sexual harassment regulations are "too complicated" and must be simplified to focus on "the Golden Rule treat others as you want them to treat you."

Reimer also said he would not heed those on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who hope the burgeoning scandal will serve to either reduce the role of women in the military or open up more combat roles to them.

"One extreme says, 'Well, you wouldn't have this problem if you didn't have women in the Army,' " Reimer said. "The other extreme I guess is to say, 'You've got to open up everything.'

"I don't think we ought to open all [positions] to women. We have about 80 percent opened up to women right now. My own personal view would be, it would be a mistake to go to either extreme at this point in time."

Women make up 14 percent of the Army, or 68,610 troops. Although women serve in combat units and fly combat aircraft, they are barred from positions whose "primary mission" is to engage in ground combat, such as infantry and armored units.

Only after the Army deals with the sexual misconduct problem can it address such issues as integrated training and more opportunities for women, Reimer said.

More than 50 women recruits have said they were victims of sexual misconduct at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School at Aberdeen during the past two years, including at least 13 who said they were raped.

A captain and two sergeants at Aberdeen will face courts-martial next year on charges ranging from illegal consensual relations to forced sodomy and rape. Fifteen sergeants have been suspended pending an investigation.

Similar charges have surfaced at other Army training facilities.

Sources on Capitol Hill and at Aberdeen say they expect many of the charges to involve fraternization -- improper consensual relations between a superior and subordinate.

"I don't see fraternization as an Army-wide problem," Reimer said. Still, he was troubled by an Army survey last spring that showed soldiers did not have confidence that the chain of command would deal with sexual misconduct issues.

"The issue at Aberdeen that bothered me is that we were somewhat surprised by the seriousness" of the women's charges, he said.

An advisory panel set up by Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. is studying whether there are systemic problems at Army training bases.

"We're not waiting for some advisory group to tell us what to do," the general said at one point in the interview. "We know what we have to do and we're going about doing it."

Reimer said some female soldiers could also face disciplinary action if, for example, they fabricated charges.

Reimer, who commanded a training base during the Vietnam War era, took pains to note that most drill sergeants do their job under stressful conditions, often working 18- to 20-hour days.

Pub Date: 12/19/96

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