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Army Trainers Face Sex Abuse, Rape ChargesBy Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 8, 1996; Page A01
The Army has charged three military trainers in an alleged rape and sexual harassment case involving at least 17 female soldiers at a Maryland base, defense officials disclosed yesterday.
Officials said they expected the number of accused perpetrators to rise as Army investigators attempt to locate and interview nearly 1,000 other women who trained at Aberdeen Proving Ground's Ordnance Center over the past 22 months.
The investigation began in September when a student reported an incident of sexual harassment to a superior at the installation, 30 miles north of Baltimore. A company commander and a drill sergeant face rape charges, and another drill sergeant stands accused of violating a rule against improper relations with students.
The center provides much of the Army's instruction in mechanical maintenance and is the first stop after basic training for many young recruits on their way to assuming jobs repairing tanks, vehicles, small arms and other equipment. Top Army officers sounded particularly incensed and distraught yesterday over the emergence of an apparent multiple sex crime case at a main training installation, where older instructors have charge of young soldiers still adjusting to military life.
"This is a very special relationship," said Gen. William W. Hartzog, who heads the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. "A drill instructor is a rather encompassing relationship, and usually they are 10 to 15 years older than most of the students. And the students are in the early stages of an Army career.
"The reason I'm so concerned," the four-star Hartzog added in a phone interview, "is that I feel a real direct responsibility to the mothers and fathers that send their children off to join the Army. And this is a period in time when it's very, very important that they get the very best model that they can have in this first exposure to this way of life."
Army officials said the average age of the alleged victims is 21.
Those charged include: Capt. Derrick Robertson, 30, accused of one rape, conduct unbecoming an officer, obstruction of justice, adultery and an improper relationship with a recruit; Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson, 31, cited for multiple rapes, forcible sodomy, adultery and obstruction of justice; and Staff Sgt. Nathanael Beach, 32, accused of violating the rule against improper relations with students, obstructing justice and disobeying an order to have no contact with trainees in the case.
Two other sergeants at the base have received nonjudicial punishments for inappropriate conduct, one for writing a love note to a student, the other for a similar violation of Army codes of conduct.
Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, the center's commander, said investigators had interviewed 550 women at the base and plan to contact all women who graduated from the center since January 1995, which is when Simpson arrived.
"We just want to make sure we've identified all the victims and potential suspects," Shadley said in a phone interview, adding that he expected investigators will uncover more of both.
The filing of charges against several trainers suggested the possibility of a conspiracy, but senior Army officials said investigators had found no evidence the accused men had coordinated their actions. "We have no indication it's a ring," Shadley said.
Still, commanders were at a loss to explain how such a reported string of sex crimes involving several instructors could have occurred at so critical an Army installation.
Asked if a few "bad apple" trainers were to blame or if some systemic problems may have fostered the alleged illegal acts and inappropriate relationships, Shadley said, "I think it's a combination of both."
In recent days, the center has tightened procedures for reporting sexual harassment incidents, increased the availability of counselors, introduced a buddy system for students and put trainers through refresher courses in avoiding sexual harassment.
"What we want out in front of a formation is a leader, not a lecher," Shadley said.
The Army has established a toll-free telephone number -- 1-800-903-4241 -- in an effort to find others who were subjected to sexual abuse at the Ordnance Center.