Sex harassment has become a problem of “substantial proportions” for the Army but does not justify separating men and women during training, the service’s top civilian official said Friday.
Army Secretary Togo West Jr. said that, even though Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has said he intends to look into the issue, the Army leadership believes such training is appropriate.
“It’s a good way to train, it’s a necessary way to train, we need to keep doing that,” West said in a CNN interview.
The Army trains men and women together during the first eight weeks of service in basic training. The issue has come under scrutiny since several drill sergeants were charged with rape and harassment of young trainees at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
West said the Aberdeen incidents have shown the military “had a problem of substantial proportions. That’s why we took unusual steps to deal with it,” including an investigation by the Army’s inspector general.
But on training, he said: “From the Army’s point of view, setting up separate training would be . . . a step backwards.”
West said mixed-gender training has gone on at more-senior levels for more than 20 years, and a study by the General Accounting Office last June endorsed it for basic training.
Asked about the investigation into sexual harassment charges filed against the service’s most-senior enlisted man, Sergeant Major of the Army Gene McKinney, West replied: “We have to be concerned about the complainant. . . . We have to be concerned about the rights of the accused.”
McKinney has denied allegations by retired Sgt. Maj. Brenda L. Hoster, who accused him of sexual assault and said his actions forced her to retire.