Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Female recruits seduce drill sergeants in new wave of Army sexual misconduct. Career sergeants are stalked by minor age female recruits on a power trip and hungry for sex.

Twelve years after a sex scandal prompted congressional investigations and changes in Army training, Fort Leonard Wood is again dealing with a wave of cases in which drill sergeants have engaged in sexual misconduct with women trainees.

Since February 2007, at least 14 drill sergeants or other trainers have faced courts-martial for having improper relationships with Soldiers undergoing initial-entry training at the sprawling Army post about 130 miles southwest of St. Louis.

The cases include:

-- A highly decorated six-year veteran who had been named noncommissioned officer of the year for the Chemical Corps. He was accused of having sex with four trainees, including in the unit supply room and laundry room, his truck, a hospital room, a hotel room and his home.

-- A drill sergeant with 16 years of service accused of having sex with five of his Soldiers on and off post, including once in a vehicle while another recruit drove, and three times at a fellow drill sergeant's apartment.

-- A drill sergeant accused of helping three female recruits go AWOL and having sex with one. He also was accused of inappropriately touching or kissing seven other women in his training company.

Often, the behavior of the drill sergeants, many of whom were married, was reckless. Several deactivated barracks alarms to gain access to the trainees, plied them with alcohol and, in at least one case, engaged in group sex.

There is no excuse for any sort of personal relationship between a drill sergeant and a recruit, said Harvey Perritt, spokesman for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees training. He called it a detriment to order and discipline within the unit and the Army.

"It's a command relationship that can't be abused," Perritt said. "It can't be."

The drill sergeant is the very first impression a young Soldier has of the Army, said Col. Maria R. Gervais, who recently researched sexual misconduct during initial-entry training while a student at the Army War College.

Drill sergeants hold almost total sway over recruits in training, Gervais said. When a drill sergeant engages in sexual misconduct, even if it's consensual, a bond is broken, she added. The behavior violates trust in the Army and can lead a recruit to believe that such behavior is acceptable.

"The drill sergeant is pretty much the one person who is in front of that Soldier day in and day out, and it's the person that Soldiers place their trust in to safeguard them, train them to standards, teach them what the Army is all about," Gervais said.

Fort Leonard Wood is one of two Army installations that offer gender-integrated basic training. The other is Fort Jackson, S.C.

About 30,000 Soldiers, about a third of whom are women, undergo initial entry training at Fort Leonard Wood each year. The fort currently is home to 503 drill sergeants. Of those, 96 are women.

Capt. Mary Leavitt, chief of military justice for the office of the staff judge advocate at Fort Leonard Wood, said the majority of courts-martial handled by her prosecutors involved sexual misconduct between drill sergeants and trainees. Leavitt's office prosecuted at least 14 such incidents that took place between November 2005 and July 2008.

Most came to light as a result of the trainees' or fellow recruits' approaching a member of the command to report the behavior, not through any targeted investigation. Many times, the women initiated the relationship, often through text messages or Internet social networking sites, Leavitt said.

But the behavior, no matter how it was initiated, doesn't excuse the drill sergeant, she added.

"The drill sergeants are the senior people in the situation and they've been in the Army more than a day," Leavitt said. "They understand the rules and what the consequences are. They're held to a much higher standard because of their position of trust as a trainer and mentor."

Paying the Price

Most of the drill sergeants were sentenced to reductions in rank, loss of pay and bad-conduct discharges. One was not convicted, and two cases are pending. In cases involving consensual sex, the trainees also received punishment, ranging from loss of pay to confinement to reduction in rank to dismissal from the Army.

An Army spokesman said about 90 percent of verified claims of sexual misconduct involving drill sergeants and trainees were consensual. In all cases, the commanding general of Fort Leonard Wood holds final say, and in some instances can order a lighter sentence than the military judge imposed.

Perritt acknowledged an increase in sexual misconduct cases. He also noted similar increases in suicides and drug and alcohol abuse, not just at training bases, but across the Army.

"The Army is under a lot of stress," Perritt said. "People are tired. ... We've been at war for seven years. That takes a toll on the force."

Sex between recruits and drill sergeants has plagued Fort Leonard Wood and the Army for years.

In 1996, two years after gender-integrated training began at the fort, investigators uncovered widespread misconduct. The abuse came to light about the same time a militarywide investigation turned up similar cases at other installations around the country. Eventually, 17 Fort Leonard Wood drill instructors were either convicted, pleaded guilty or received discharges in lieu of courts-martial as a result of the investigations. The Army took similar disciplinary action at training installations across the country.

The findings shook public confidence in the Army, undermined the chain of command and raised concerns about the Army's ability to police itself.

The Army responded by requiring drill sergeant candidates to undergo more comprehensive background checks and receive more training on sexual harassment. The Army also boosted the number of female drill sergeants, added a company executive officer and battalion chaplain to provide more oversight and extended initial entry training one week to give instructors more time to stress Army values training.

"We look for it. We hunt for it. We train against it," Perritt said. "We will prosecute to the fullest extent we can if allegations are investigated and found to be valid. These guys are not just thrown out of the Army. They're going to be punished."

Betraying Trust

Gervais said she was motivated to study the issue after serving as a training battalion commander at Fort Leonard Wood from 2004 to 2006.

During that time, two drill sergeants under Gervais' command -- whom she described as excellent trainers with spotless records -- engaged in sexual misconduct with recruits.

As battalion commander, Gervais said she thought she had put mechanisms and procedures in place to ensure such incidents didn't happen. She made it clear that such behavior would not be tolerated.

"I felt I kind of let America's moms and dads down," Gervais said. "I didn't live up to the trust they placed in me."

Gervais has found that incidents of drill sergeants involved in sexual misconduct continue to plague training installations and, in fact, "have continued to increase at an alarming rate."

Since 2005, sexual misconduct allegations against drill sergeants increased each year. In 2007, 68 percent of all trainee abuse allegations involved drill sergeant sexual misconduct, far ahead of complaints about physical or verbal abuse.

As part of her research, Gervais interviewed more than two dozen current and former initial entry training leaders, from drill sergeants through battalion commanders. Those interviewed blamed a lax selection process for drill sergeants, inadequate staffing, inexperienced junior leaders and the changing values of recruits.

Most believe that the best Soldiers are being assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan, while training bases get the leftovers. They said many drill sergeant candidates received waivers after they failed to meet the minimum standards, and lacked the leadership, maturity and professionalism needed for the job.

Initial-entry training units also routinely exceeded the Army's drill sergeant-to-recruit ratio and lacked enough female drill sergeants to serve as role models and deterrents to sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, a shortage of captains means that many units are being headed by junior captains and even first lieutenants who lack the experience to recognize the warning signs of potential abuse, or are reluctant to correct the behavior of more experienced sergeants, training leaders told Gervais.

Army regulations prohibit drill sergeants from just about any personal activity with a recruit, including dating, writing personal letters or e-mail, making personal telephone calls, playing cards, dancing, gambling, entertaining in a personal residence, sharing a hotel room or riding in a personal car with a recruit.

"There are things that you can be charged with in the military that nobody would blink an eye at outside the wire," Perritt said. "It's a matter of good order and discipline."

The Army is initiating a new program at training installations in which unit leaders sit down with women recruits, away from drill sergeants, to teach them how to prevent and report such incidents.

"People are imperfect, but we do try to maintain a perfect training environment," Perritt said. "We're not going to sit back and say that goal is unattainable."

A Career Ends

For the accused, justice at Fort Leonard Wood is delivered in a nondescript brick building deep inside the perimeter. There, in a small, windowless, wood-paneled courtroom with water-stained ceilings, a military judge determined last week the fate of Staff Sgt. Steven L. Schrank, a eight-year veteran with two combat tours in Iraq.

He pleaded guilty of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old married recruit, helping the woman go AWOL, adultery, dereliction of duty, violating a no-contact order and lying to investigators.

Schrank, who enlisted right out of high school, hoped to avoid a bad-conduct discharge that would end his military career. His attorney argued for leniency, noting that the woman had initiated the relationship with Schrank and later lied to him that she was pregnant. She also told Schrank that she was in an abusive relationship and wanted a divorce. He gave her a $2,000 engagement ring.

The recruit said the relationship gave her a powerful feeling, put her above her peers, but that she had no intention of marrying Schrank.

"You're not even attracted to Staff Sergeant Schrank, are you?" the lawyer asked.

"No, sir."

The lawyer accused her of manipulating Schrank.

"You're proud of it, aren't you?"

"A little, sir."

Later, the recruit testified that she had sought out Schrank because he got a perfect score on his physical fitness test, had a nice truck and was a staff sergeant.

A half-dozen men who served with Schrank described him as one of the best Soldiers they knew. Several testified that he was a superior sergeant who led from the front, always completed his mission and fought bravely in combat. All said they would willingly serve with him again.

"I can only hope that he would go with me," Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Babyak testified. "If I'm going back to Iraq, I want him back, even as a private."

In arguing for the maximum punishment, military prosecutors noted that Schrank would be facing statutory rape charges in some states. They also pointed out that the trainee's husband was a deployed service member at the time of the affair and that Schrank had been disciplined previously for an inappropriate relationship with another noncommissioned officer in Iraq. They said he had abused his power, cast a negative light on the Army and set a poor example for recruits.

Toward the end of the day, Schrank, wearing his Army dress uniform, rose to address the court. When the boy-faced Soldier stood between his two attorneys, he barely reached their shoulders.

He held his composure as he apologized to the Army, his unit, the trainee and the military judge. He choked up when he tried to apologize to his mother, who sat alone nearby in the front row in tears.

"I'd like to Soldier on ... and finish my career in the Army and doing what I do best," Schrank told the judge, who apparently wasn't moved.

He ordered that Schrank be reduced in rank to private, forfeit two-thirds of his pay for eight months, be confined for eight months and receive a bad-conduct discharge. Barring a reprieve from the fort's commanding general, Schrank's Army career is over.

More sexually aggressive behavior among students reported in elementary schools.

A Los Angeles conference brought educators and police together to discuss how to address the problem and that of teachers who molest students.

A 5-year-old boy was reportedly sexually assaulted by a 6-year-old male classmate at a Los Angeles-area school recently. On another campus, a 6-year-old girl was allegedly sexually abused by a 10-year-old classmate after he grabbed her hair and pulled her into a school bathroom.

At a conference Wednesday on the Westside, these and other cases were described as part of a troubling trend of sexually aggressive behavior among students. Sponsored by the Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District, the event drew 200 educators, law enforcement officers and other officials, who discussed ways to better recognize abuse and harassment and establish more effective responses.

Gail Abarbanel, founder and director of the Rape Treatment Center, said that in the last year her group has seen an increase in cases of students sexually assaulting students and in sexual misconduct by teachers in which students are the victims on L.A. Unified campuses and in other school districts.

"We all need to be vigilant, and we need to collaborate to protect the students involved in these incidents: the victims and the victimizers, the other students in the school, and the school or school district," she said.

In another recent incident, a 15-year-old severely developmentally disabled girl suffering from a seizure disorder was led into a bathroom by a boy who allegedly molested her and attempted to rape her. Months later, another boy reportedly sexually assaulted her in a bathroom even though she was supposed to have one-on-one supervision at the school.

L.A. Unified Supt. David L. Brewer, who oversees the nation's second-largest school district, acknowledged that more coordination is needed and that a culture in which an educator may be reluctant to voice suspicions about a colleague must change.

"In some cases, people have been hesitant to report abuses, and we can't have that," Brewer said. "We have to ensure that we have the tools and knowledge to change enough of our culture so that we prevent these things from happening."

Brewer underscored the depth of the problem by relating an incident that came to his attention last week: A girl left school to attend a "ditch" party, was allegedly raped and was then wheeled back to school in a grocery cart.

On Tuesday, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded nearly $1.6 million to three students who were molested by a former school aide at L.A. Unified's Miramonte Early Learning Center in South Los Angeles. The abuse took place when the victims were 5 to 7 years old.

And an L.A. Unified administrator, Steve Thomas Rooney, faces four molestation-related charges stemming from cases involving former students.

District officials and others vowed to work more closely to stem abuses. The Los Angeles Police Department is organizing all cases involving student-on-student abuse into its specialized juvenile division and expects to handle 50 to 60 such cases each year, said Charlie Beck, chief of detectives. His agency will begin having regular meetings with educators to discuss cases.

In the wake of several high-profile cases, the Los Angeles Board of Education recently ordered better training of staff, better coordination and accountability reforms involving sexual harassment and misconduct.

Many students say they feel helpless in the face of abuse, whether committed by other students or staff, said Harriet Kerr, director of prevention education for the Rape Treatment Center.

Studies show that four out of five students report being victims of sexual harassment from their peers. On many campuses, students say they face a gantlet of coarse and sexually suggestive language, Kerr said.

If there is no adult intervention, such behavior and words begin to feel normal, she said.

"There is a sense that students feel stuck in these situations with no adult to help them," she said.
By Carla Rivera
October 23, 2008



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