Two army sergeants charged in the spreading investigation of recruiting fraud have taken the offensive by filing charges against a brigadier general and two colonels for allegedly condoning, encouraging and trying to cover up recruiting violations.

Any soldier can bring charges against any other, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice obliges the Army to investigate the charges.

"It puts the ball into their court." said attorney Mark Waple, who represents 23 of the sergeants under investigation. Waple said his clients filed charges against the officers because they doubted the Army would take any action against them.

Waple called for a congressional inquiry into recruiting fraud. Sen. Robert Morgan (D-N.C.) also has requested an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which he serves.

The Army so far has relieved from duty 123 recruiting sergeants and three officers in what officials say is the Army's largest investigation into recruiter fraud.

The probe centers on allegations that recruiters illegally coached applicants on enlistment qualifying exams, gave out bootleg exam copies, and altered educational, medical, birth, criminal and Social Security records to boost enlistments.

The investigation began in the Charlotte district in May and has spread to recruiting districts in Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Richmond, Dallas, Nashville, Cleveland, Jackson, Miss., and Montgomery, Ala. The 10 districts cover parts of 17 states. The Army has about 4,800 recruiters in 57 districts.

Waple said at a news conference Wednesday that recruiters facing heavy pressure to meet quotas apparently changed medical records to allow "physically unqualified" recruits to join the Army.

Waple said one such recruit, who was overweight, died in basic training camp following an apprarently illegal induction. Waple refused to provide any details.

The Army hasn't determined how many recruits have entered the service illegally. Several recruiters in the Charlotte district, one of the Army's busiest recruiting areas, estimate at least 30 percent of the recruits entered the Army illegally in recent years.

The Army has ordered the sergeants not to talk about the investigation, but eight sergeants said in separate interviews that they have been made scapegoats for a system that pressured them to meet weekly quotas, and that they had followed direct or implicit orders to cheat.

"All of a sudden you feel the pressure," one award-winning recruiter said, "so you don't have an alternative. And if you do get involved, it's like getting on dope. You get hooked. And it's the Army that supplies the dope, and you keep doing it because it's the easy way."

Another recruiter said that when he began his tour of duty as a recruiter, "I worked my butt off seven days a week for the first few months but I continuously received pressure for more. Finally I was asking myself why. Everyone said, 'Get with the program, get with the program.' So I got with the program."

Recruiters who met their quotas -- as high as 10 enlistees a month -- stood to get incentive pay of up to $500 a month, use of special cars, awards and commendations. Those who couldn't meet quotas were given bad efficiency reports and were eventually relieved of duty, their careers ruined.

"You're damned if you do, damned if you don't," a third sergeant said of the cheating. He said he got a copy of the supposedly secret entrance test in the mail when he reported to duty, addressed from "the Phantom."

The Army is finishing its worst year of recruiting since the draft ended in 1973. The Pentagon estimates the Army will be 14,000 to 17,000 men and women short of its goal of 158,700 when the fiscal year ends Sunday.

Waple said Sgt. Llie Clay, a former Winston-Salem recruiter who faces court-martial charges, swore out a complaint against Brig. Gen. F. Cecil Adams Jr., charging him with conspiracy, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Adams, now training commander at Fort Bragg, N.C., was deputy commander of the Army's eastern recruting command at Fort Sheridan, Ill. He declined to comment.

Sgt. 1C Marshall Jackson, a former Charlotte-area "recruiter of the year" who also faces court-martial charges, swore complaints charging Cols. Benjamin Beasley and Thomas McBride with conspiracy, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer.

Beasley is deputy commander for the southeast recruiting region in Atlanta and McBride is deputy commander of the east recruiting command. Both declined to comment.

Maj. Jeff Cook, Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the complaints could lead to court-martial charges against the officers. The charges "are going to be evaluated pretty carefully," Cook said.

Cook said the charges overlap with a separate investigation by the Army inspector general's office. That probe began in Charlotte two weeks ago after recrutiers alleged senior officers and an unidentified general condoned cheating in at least two meetings this spring. No results have been announced.