Fifteen more supervisors at an Army training center have been suspended in connection with a widening investigation of rape and sexual harassment of female recruits, a spokesman said Saturday.
The 15 are drill sergeants and instructors at the Army Ordnance Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground. None has been charged yet although charges could be filed, said post spokesman John Yaquiant.
On Thursday, Army officials said they had charged three instructors, including a company commander, with acts from adultery to rape. In all, four women were raped and others were forcibly sodomized and sexually assaulted, according to Army documents. The next day, the Army said 20 more soldiers - officers and enlisted - had been suspended. They have been informally accused of misconduct from dating to rape and are awaiting the outcome of investigations.
In response to the allegations, the Army has turned its age-old “buddy system,” created to teach recruits teamwork and responsibility, into an elaborate chaperoning system.
Young female soldiers have been ordered to walk in pairs. Never can a male drill instructor close the door to his office if there is a female inside. Never can there be only one female in that room - she must always be accompanied by a second, just in case.
The idea is to give female trainees and their supervisors some measure of confidence that they will neither be pressured to give sexual favors nor falsely accused of asking for them.
Saturday, nervous female trainees stuck close to their “battle buddies” as thousands of soldiers and civilians who work on this huge military base northeast of Baltimore coped with a harsh media spotlight and their own jitters.
“If you don’t have your buddy with you (when you talk to your drill sergeant), people will think something else is going on,” said Pvt. Stacey Stuard, 20, of Louisiana. “People around here talk too much.”
In newly released documents Saturday, the Army depicted one of the supervisors as a brutal rapist who threatened to beat his victims if they reported his actions.
Women have been trained by male drill instructors since the early 1970s. To critics who warned that mixing the sexes was doomed to fail and that the Aberdeen scandal proves the point, Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. responded with a hard line echoed in the past several days by the Army’s top brass.
“Sure, we could solve this by not having male drill instructors,” he said. “We could solve this by not having women being trained. But that answer disregards the nature of our society and our responsibility.”
About 11,000 young trainees - up to 20 percent of them women - come to the vast Aberdeen Proving Ground each year to learn how to fix complex equipment such as tanks and power generators. But they face another equally complicated task that many say they never expected: learning to navigate the byzantine rules that govern male-female relations in the military.
It’s OK to have a sexual relationship with a fellow private, but no PDAs (public displays of affection) while in uniform, please. It is illegal for officers and enlisted personnel even to date, and adultery is a crime. And as of last month in Aberdeen, don’t ever be seen alone with your superior, even if you’re only discussing something innocuous.
To safeguard yourself from false accusations of “fraternization,” you are told, be sure to have your designated “battle buddy” with you at all times.
In reality, many said, intimate relationships develop among the same-rank trainees and between female privates and their drill instructors, most of whom are men. Although the barracks on the post are segregated, with males and females on separate floors and drill sergeants posted to prevent cross-gender visits, sexual relations occur in the barracks frequently, many said.
Meanwhile, the mother of one of the trainers who have been accused, Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson, said Saturday that her son had been set up by his accuser. During a recent visit home to Chester, S.C., Simpson told his mother that he didn’t like being a drill sergeant, Edna Simpson, 60, said in a telephone interview.
“He didn’t like giving orders,” she said. “He said people didn’t like him and someone was trying to get him.”
But Army charging documents released late Saturday painted a dramatically different portrait. The Army alleged that Simpson raped three women, all of them more than once, from July to September. He is charged with sodomizing two others and sexually assaulting three more. All were privates.
According to the charges, Simpson threatened he would kill or hurt three of the soldiers. “If anyone finds out about me having sex with you, I’ll kill you,” he allegedly told one of them. “Now I am going to knock your teeth out and get away with it,” he allegedly told another.
The charges against Capt. Derrick Robertson include raping and forcibly sodomizing one private. Staff Sgt. Nathanael Beach is charged with adultery, which is a crime in the military, with one private and threatening her.
Robertson has strongly denied the allegations. A lawyer for Beach denied the adultery charge, and Simpson’s attorney said, “The truth will come out.”