The military was hit by another major sexual harassment scandal Thursday as the Army disclosed that it has charged a captain and two sergeants in connection with the rape or harassment of more than a dozen female recruits at a training base in Maryland.
Army officials conceded that the case could widen significantly after authorities complete an investigation. They said that Army investigators are interviewing 400 more female soldiers to determine if there are other victims.
The scope and tenor of the case--which began with a complaint by one female recruit last September and quickly drew allegations from 16 others--clearly came as a shock to Army officials, who have sought to portray their branch of the armed forces as a leader in opening up opportunities for women.
Gen. William W. Hartzog, chief of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, told reporters at a news conference that "America deserves better than this. Our soldiers deserve better than this. And our Army is better than this."
An obviously angry Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, the Army chief of staff, called a press conference to vow that the service's leadership would move swiftly to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
"Sexual harassment has no place in today's--or tomorrow's--Army," Reimer told reporters. He and Secretary of the Army Togo West Jr. also ordered a new round of sexual harassment training for all Army personnel.
The incidents allegedly occurred at the Army Ordnance Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., which provides 16 weeks of basic training for about 3,500 newly enlisted soldiers at a time.
Those charged include:
* Capt. Derrick Robertson, a company commander at the school, who is accused of rape, adultery, conduct unbecoming an officer and improper fraternization with subordinates.
* Sgt. Delmar Simpson, a drill instructor, who is charged with rape, sodomy, adultery, obstruction of justice and improper fraternization with subordinates.
* Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Beech, also a drill instructor, who is charged with disobeying an order, obstruction of justice and improper fraternization with subordinates.
In addition, the Army said that two other instructors have been charged with lesser offenses involving inappropriate conduct. One was said to have written a love letter to a recruit being trained at the school.
The service gave no further details of the alleged incidents.
The charges came five years after the Pentagon, responding to behavior at the Navy's 1991 Tailhook convention in Las Vegas, vowed to do all it could to eliminate sexual harassment in its ranks. The Tailhook scandal, in which more than 80 women were harassed at a party for naval aviators at a Las Vegas hotel, resulted in the firing of top admirals and holds being placed on promotions for other officers.
Some military sociologists have suggested, however, that the Army also has had serious problems with sexual harassment but that it has managed to keep them largely hidden from public view. They said that the latest case could encourage more women in the Army to file complaints about harassment incidents, focusing new attention on the Army's difficulties.
Army officials said that Simpson has been jailed, while Robertson and Beech have been relieved of their duties pending disposition of their cases. All three are said to be facing almost certain courts-martial.
Under military law, a conviction on a charge of rape carries the possibility of a life term. Until a few years ago, the maximum penalty was death but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that changed.
Besides the courts-martial and the new round of sexual harassment training, Army leaders also ordered a review of the Ordnance Center's procedures to make sure that they did not contain systemic problems.
Recruits at the Ordnance Center receive instruction in bombs and shells and learn how to repair military machinery. Aberdeen Proving Ground, 30 miles north of Baltimore, is the Army's main facility for testing new weapons.
Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, commander of the Ordnance Center, said that investigators plan to interview every woman who has been through training at the school during the last two years. Those who were absent without leave will be asked if they left because they were assaulted.
"This is the worst thing I've ever come across" in three decades in the Army, he said.