The Army's top noncommissioned officer in Europe faces charges of kidnapping, sodomy and other offenses for allegedly assaulting a female subordinate during a trip to the German town of Hanau last April, Army officials said yesterday.
The announcement marks the latest in a series of sex scandals to roil the armed forces and involves far more severe charges than other high-profile Army cases in the past two years, which implicated the service's former highest-ranking noncommissioned officer and its onetime deputy inspector general.
The accused this time, Command Sgt. Maj. Riley Miller, is a 30-year veteran with combat decorations dating back to the Vietnam War. His job, representing the interests of all enlisted Army soldiers in Europe, is one of the noncommissioned corps' most prestigious positions.
Army officials stressed that the case against Miller is still at an early stage, with a preliminary hearing -- resembling a grand jury proceeding -- still to come. But the commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, Gen. Montgomery Meigs, formally reassigned Miller to a desk job Thursday and announced the search is on for a successor.
Apart from releasing the list of charges filed against Miller in Heidelberg, Army authorities were reluctant to discuss the case, providing few details about the allegations. One senior military officer identified the female subordinate as a sergeant who served as Miller's driver. He said the misconduct allegedly occurred when both soldiers were inebriated in Hanau, a town just east of Frankfurt in central Germany.
In addition to kidnapping and forcible sodomy, the charges against Miller, who is married, include maltreatment of a subordinate, fraternization and indecent assault. The absence of a rape count suggests that the forcible sex was limited to oral contact.
The kidnapping count alone carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay.
Miller's military attorney declined through an Army spokesman to comment on the case, and Miller could not be reached.
In reassigning Miller, Meigs issued a statement saying he had formed no opinion on the charges. But the four-star general noted that the start of criminal proceedings had made it impossible for Miller to carry out the duties of command sergeant major for the U.S. Army Europe.
"I owe the soldiers of the U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army a full-time command sergeant major who can forcefully advocate their interests and advise our senior leaders on matters affecting the lives of enlisted soldiers," the general said.
Miller, 51, had served in the post three years. He has an infantry background, including service as a Ranger in Vietnam, where he received a campaign medal with three bronze stars. Before reaching the top enlisted job in Europe, Miller held command sergeant major positions with units in Panama; Fort Benning, Ga.; and Vicenza, Italy. He earned a master's degree in personnel administration from Troy State University in 1984.
Until the allegations against him surfaced, Miller had been mentioned as a leading candidate to become the next sergeant major of the Army, the service's highest-ranking enlisted post. Gene C. McKinney was in that job in 1997 when his former public affairs aide accused him of sexual harassment. Eventually, five other women came forward with similar allegations, triggering drawn-out legal proceedings that deeply embarrassed the Army and added to concerns about the integration of women into the armed forces.
A military court acquitted McKinney in March 1998 of nearly all charges, but issued a conviction on one count of obstructing justice. He was reprimanded and demoted to the rank of master sergeant.
McKinney had fought back strenuously, arguing that high-level officers charged with similar offenses were allowed to retire quietly without prosecution or penalty. As the first black soldier to reach the pinnacle of enlisted ranks, McKinney also suggested race played a part in the case by noting that all of his accusers were white.
Complaints that the Pentagon had a double standard for dealing with sexual misconduct also arose when David Hale, then a two-star general serving as the Army's deputy inspector general, was allowed to retire quietly early last year despite allegations that he had sex with the wife of a subordinate while he was a top NATO commander in southern Europe. Later, investigators alleged that Hale had also been involved with the wives of three other subordinates. The resulting furor led the Pentagon to change its rules to bar top officers from retiring while facing allegations of wrongdoing.
The Army also decided to take the highly unusual step of court-martialing Hale this year, even though he was retired. He pleaded guilty in March to seven counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and one count of lying to investigators. He was reprimanded and fined, but he escaped a possible 11-year term in a military prison. Last month, the Army announced that it had demoted Hale to one-star rank.