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Army suspends drill sergeants at Fort Benning amid allegation of sexual assault

A bridge over I 185 marks the entrance to the U.S. Army’s Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (John Bazemore/AP)

The U.S. Army has sidelined numerous drill sergeants at its training center at Fort Benning, Ga., amid allegations that at least one of them sexually assaulted a trainee, the service announced Wednesday.

The cases are under investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Command and the service’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, Army officials said. The investigation began after a female trainee accused a drill sergeant of sexual assault, and it expanded after that allegation “revealed indications of additional allegations of sexual misconduct involving trainees and drill sergeants,” the Army said in a statement. It declined to say how many drill sergeants are now under investigation.

“We take these allegations very seriously, and we will ensure a full and thorough investigation of the facts,” the statement said. “Our initial actions are to ensure the safety and welfare of all of our Soldiers.  The drill sergeants have been suspended from drill sergeant duties, and will have no contact with trainees during the course of the investigation.”

Army officials added that there is no place for sexual harassment or sexual assault in the service. They declined to release additional information while the investigation is ongoing.

The case marks the latest black mark against drill sergeants or drill instructors in the U.S. military, where trainees have little power as they transition into service life.

Most recently, the Marine Corps has faced a spate of allegations of hazing and abuse at the service’s boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. The cases include allegations of a drill instructor ordering a recruit into an industrial-size clothes dryer and turning it on, and another in which a recruit was ordered to perform exercises on a bleach-covered floor and ultimately needed skin grafts.

Marines move forward with prosecution of drill instructor accused of putting recruit in dryer

In 2015, an Army drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri was convicted of sexually assaulting numerous female trainees. The service ultimately found that some of the drill sergeant’s peers were aware of sexual misconduct but decided not to report it.

The Air Force faced a sprawling sexual assault scandal at its training center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio that began in 2009 and came to light in 2011. Dozens of drill sergeants ultimately faced court-martial for illegal sexual contact with trainees, including sexual assault and inappropriate consensual sexual relationships.

Another scandal with similarities erupted at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in 1996. Several drill instructors ultimately were convicted of rape, while others were convicted of lesser sex crimes, disciplined and discharged.