February 4, 1997 in Nation/World

Top Enlisted Man Accused Of Sexual Harassment Mckinney On Commission That Reviews Army’s Sexual Harassment Policies

New York Times

A 22-year Army veteran has accused her former boss, the Army’s top-ranking enlisted man and a member of the commission charged with reviewing the Army’s sexual harassment policies, of sexually assaulting her in her hotel room during a business trip to Hawaii last April. She says at least one senior Army officer then tried to cover up the incident.

As a result of the allegations, made formally in a complaint mailed to the Army on Friday, Gene C. McKinney, the sergeant major of the Army, asked to be excused from his duties on the review panel until the matter is resolved.

In a statement Monday night, McKinney denied that he had ever engaged in any form of sexual misconduct.

Army officials said Monday that they had granted the request and would investigate the charges when his formal complaint arrived.

The woman, Sgt. Maj. Brenda L. Hoster, said that after she had overcome her initial fears about reporting the incident and had told her superiors at the Pentagon about it about seven weeks later, they had taken no action against McKinney and had suppressed her complaint.

They also ignored her pleas for a job transfer and left her with no other choice but to retire early, she said.

That could have ended the matter. Hoster, a 39-year-old Army journalist and public affairs specialist, said she had reluctantly agreed to leave quietly last August, partly “for the good of the Army” and partly because she feared, she said, that no one would believe her if she pressed her case.

But when Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. appointed McKinney, 46, to the senior panel last November, Hoster said, she could no longer stay silent. Not when the man she says kissed her, grabbed her and asked her for sex - even as his own wife was in another room just a few doors away - was to help set the Army’s future policies against sexual misconduct.

“It wasn’t right,” she said in an emotional three-hour interview at her lawyer’s office in Denver last Friday. “He doesn’t have any business being on that panel.”

The sergeant major of the Army - the senior person of that rank, chosen from among the service’s sergeant majors - is the top adviser to the Army chief of staff, a four-star general, on all matters, from housing to health care, relating to the Army’s 410,000 enlisted soldiers.

Enlisted soldiers make up 85 percent of the Army’s ranks. Hoster was McKinney’s public affairs specialist, responsible for helping him write his speeches and arranging interviews with reporters.

She acknowledged that her boss had often expressed unhappiness with her work.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email