WASHINGTON — As part of its widening probe of alleged sexual harassment of female recruits, the Army disclosed Saturday it has suspended an additional 15 training instructors at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Ground while it examines complaints ranging from verbal abuse to sexual assault.
In addition, investigators at the 94-year-old training school--where recruits fresh out of boot camp get their first real introduction to Army life--are perusing 110 new reports of sexual harassment in the military, the school spokesman said.
The new complaints have come from women dialing the Army's toll-free telephone hotline, which began operation Thursday. Not all of the complaints are related to Aberdeen or the Army: About 60 of the hotline callers said they had been victimized elsewhere in the armed services, at installations scattered around the world.
So far at Aberdeen, 19 women have come forward to say they were subjected to sexual harassment by their superiors at the Ordnance Center and School, with charges ranging from receiving unwanted love notes to instances of sodomy and rape. Investigators have already interviewed 550 women who had trained at the school during the past two years, and they are trying to track down 500 more.
The school's chief spokesman, Ed Starnes, said the probe will not be completed quickly. "This isn't something that in a couple of weeks we are going to do," he said.
The 15 suspensions bring to 20 the number of Aberdeen men implicated in the mushrooming sex scandal, in which supervising soldiers stand accused of systematically harassing the vulnerable young female recruits they had been entrusted to train.
Three men--a commander and two drill sergeants--face criminal charges. One of them is in a Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Va., for allegedly threatening one of his victims. The other two remain on base but have been assigned nonteaching duties. Another two men face lesser charges of violating Army rules.
While additional charges are considered likely, none have been filed so far against any of the other 15 suspended soldiers, all of whom are noncommissioned officers. All have been removed from their teaching positions pending the outcome of the Army investigation, but they could be reinstated if they are cleared.
"This is just an investigation," Starnes said. "It just means that at least one person has said this person did something wrong. It could be anything from he verbally abused a person or they were offended by his language, all the way to rape. It's the full gamut."
While the suspensions were instituted during the past several months--some before and some after the incidents that gave rise to the criminal charges--they are being discussed along with the criminal investigation so Army officials can get a complete picture of the abuses at Aberdeen.
"The general [Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, the school's commander] went back and wanted to see how many related investigations were going on," Starnes said. "We are getting a look at the full range of activities to get a better idea of how this is happening and why this is happening."
Each year, 11,000 young soldiers, many still in their teens, flow into Aberdeen Proving Ground from military posts all over America. Fresh out of boot camp, they come to this sprawling base on the Chesapeake Bay, 28 miles northeast of Baltimore, to learn the rudiments of keeping the Army moving. In the classroom and on the field, they are taught to maintain and repair all kinds of Army equipment, from tanks to pistols to generators.
On an average day, the school has 2,103 students, 1,367 of whom are trainees. About 20% of the trainees are women. There are 37 drill sergeants and 325 enlisted instructors at any given time, Starnes said.
The investigation into sexual misconduct has rattled the soldiers who live and work at the picturesque base. While some female recruits said they have been hearing rumors about sexual liaisons between trainees and their superiors, others have suggested that some of the relationships were consensual. Indeed, the one officer charged in the probe, Capt. Derrick Robertson, who faces allegations that include rape, has said that he had an improper sexual relationship with a recruit but that it was consensual.
Even if that is the case, Army officials say consensual sex between soldiers of different ranks violates the military's strict ban against fraternization.
"You cannot have any relationship between the cadre and the students," Starnes said. "Even social relationships are banned. They go drinking together and dancing, that is prohibited. To the general public, who cares? But that is prohibited activity between a student and the cadre. That is an abuse of their position."
Meanwhile, some men at the school have expressed fears that innocent soldiers will be caught up in the scandal and have their careers ruined.