Many Aberdeen issues unresolved a year later Continuing questions on sex investigation

November 08, 1997|By Tom Bowman and Lisa Respers | Tom Bowman and Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

An article in the editions of Nov. 8 incorrectly stated that Capt. Edward H. Brady, who represented Delmar G. Simpson in his court-martial on rape charges at Aberdeen Proving Ground, had resigned his Army commission. Brady is no longer on active duty but still holds a commission in the Army Reserve.

The Sun regrets the error

Last year, Delmar G. Simpson was an imposing drill sergeant at an obscure Army training command on the Chesapeake Bay, a decorated 12-year veteran overseeing students headed for the unglamorous world of fixing the Army's trucks and other heavy equipment.

Today Simpson sits in a prison cell at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., serving a 25-year sentence for raping female trainees. And the command is no longer obscure: Aberdeen Proving Ground.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Yet a full year after charges against Simpson and other soldiers made Aberdeen -- like Tailhook before it -- a code word for sexual misconduct in the military, many issues central to the scandal have yet to be resolved.

Civil rights leaders -- and some men and women who were caught up in the scandal -- continue to raise questions about how the probe was conducted and whether investigators coerced testimony or were biased.

Meanwhile, generals and privates, politicians and sociologists still debate how women are treated in the Army and what their future role will be in the military. Above all, there seems to be one overarching question: Can women ever be accepted as equals within the warrior culture of the armed forces?

"You have a culture war going on," said Susan Barnes, president of WANDAS, an advocacy group whose name stands for Women Active in our Nation's Defense, their Advocates and Supporters, "and you're not going to solve this with additional training."

Among the other findings from interviews with those involved in the investigation of Aberdeen and its aftermath:

The Army initially charged three sergeants with rape at Aberdeen, but Army spokesmen at the Pentagon have yet to say why rape charges were dropped against two of them. Col. Edward W. France, who was chief prosecutor at Aberdeen, declined to comment.

After accusations that investigators coerced testimony from witnesses at Aberdeen, Army Secretary Togo West repeatedly vowed to order an inspector general's probe of the Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) after trials ended at the base. The trials ended last month, but Army officials say there will be no action until next year.

Officials say privately they are concerned such a probe would affect the case involving former Army Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney, who was charged with sexual misconduct after Aberdeen. He also has complained about CID's tactics, and his lawyers could press for their own review or seek a trial delay to wait for the findings of an inspector general's probe.

A military-civilian review panel set up by West after Aberdeen was poised to issue a less critical picture of today's Army. Only after intense and emotional debate did a more hard-hitting report emerge in September, a report that said women face harassment and discrimination.

Female members of the panel and elsewhere in the military say they must continually defend the value of women in the military against those who still question their role. "It makes me shake my head. It makes you mad," said retired Brig. Gen. Evelyn "Pat" Foote, a panel member and the first woman to serve as a brigade commander. "The backlash is something we've experienced before. We've [dealt with] it before and we'll do it again."

In the wake of the sex scandal, the Army has altered its training -- at Aberdeen and other bases.

At Aberdeen, for example, the Army has added more personnel to supervise the troops and listen to their complaints. A lieutenant has been added to each of the two training battalions, and two chaplains have been sent to the training command. In addition, the equal employment and inspector general's offices recently have been expanded, said Ed Starnes, an Aberdeen spokesman.

Students at the Ordnance Center and School carry cards with rules about the buddy system and phone numbers to report problems. Buddys, the cards state, are to "stick together be a team," and to "share your problems discuss them."

Yet some question whether such changes can eliminate the misconduct -- particularly because much of it involved consensual sex between trainers and privates.

One of the former trainees at Aberdeen, Kathryn Leming, 22, of Harrisburg, Pa., admits to a consensual sexual relationship with a drill sergeant she won't name, and predicts such activity will continue despite the Army's reforms. Such relationships, though prohibited, are to be expected when men and women work and live so closely together, said Leming, who was discharged from the military for being unable to control her weight.

"It should not just reflect on the drill sergeants, it should reflect on the recruits as well," she said. "Even though it's wrong, people are human and they have feelings."

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