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Drinking parties. Sex in the laundry room. Social dates and text messaging. Sex in a truck. In a bathroom. And in the barracks.
Between February 2007 and November 2008, 12 drill sergeants and advanced individual training instructors at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., admitted in court-martial proceedings to having engaged in such forbidden sexual and social relationships with trainees.
Each soldier pleaded guilty to at least one count of violating Regulation 350-6 — wrongfully engaging in a personal and social relationship with a trainee — and dozens of other related offenses on and off post between December 2005 and August 2008.
Fort Leonard Wood officials toldArmy Times there is "no clear pattern" in the conduct of the cadre over the two and a half years, indicating they all appeared to have acted alone.
There were no allegations made against any officers in the Fort Leonard Wood cases, according to officials there.
"While we have had instances of misconduct, we've trained hundreds of thousands in gender integrated training, and 99 percent of our soldiers are training to standard," said Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, commander of Accessions Command, a subordinate command of Army Training and Doctrine Command.
"What you're hearing about and learning about is the end result of due process," he said.
More than 600,000 enlisted soldiers were trained by tens of thousands of drill sergeants at the Army's five basic training posts during the eight years of data provided by TRADOC.
Only two of those posts — Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Jackson, S.C. — have women in basic training.
Freakley pointed to the exhaustive training all enlisted soldiers and officers get on a regular basis in sexual abuse and misconduct, concluding that even in the Army, where the issue is addressed on a continual basis, people cannot be controlled at every turn.
"I guess we're going to have to go back to the base of the apple tree in the Garden of Eden to answer the question," he said.
Officials said lapses in discipline were personal, informed decisions on the part of the offenders and not for lack of training.
"Human nature is still human nature, whether you're civilian or military. We are all subject to the fallacies of the world, if you will, or the weakness of who we are as human beings," said Col. Randall Twitchell, commander of 14th Military Police Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood, which conducts basic and advanced individual training.
After sweeping up the ashes from the 1996 drill sergeant sex scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., in which a pattern of sexual abuse by one individual resulted in 18 rape convictions, the Army instituted new rules, and drill sergeant candidates were more closely scrutinized.
The Drill Sergeant School has brought in outside experts to teach its sexual abuse prevention classes, and drill sergeants are trained and re-trained on their responsibilities throughout their two-year assignments, with strong emphasis on the consequences of breaking the Army's rules governing behavior with trainees.
Even the trainees have more rights and resources than they once did.
Still, data provided by TRADOC, which recruits and trains soldiers, shows that in the eight years between Oct. 1, 2000, and Sept. 30, 2008, 107 drill sergeants were charged with sexual misconduct under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, resulting in disciplinary action that included 52 courts-martial, confinement for many and dozens of bad-conduct discharges.
Fort Leonard Wood had the most cases with 38; followed by Fort Jackson with 24, including two rapes; Fort Lee, Va., with nine; Fort Gordon, Ga., with eight; and Fort Eustis, Va., with six including one for rape.
The vast majority of the offenses, according to the data, were for consensual sex. But Army leaders say there is no such thing as consensual sex between a drill sergeant and a trainee. It is against Army regulation.
"Drill sergeants have a position of trust, and because of that, there cannot be any interaction between cadre and a soldier in training, this includes socializing, riding in personal vehicles, lunch or any fraternization at any level," said Command Sgt. Maj. Gary Newsome, commandant of the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, where about 1,800 drill sergeants are trained each year.
Avoiding personal contact
The behavior of drill sergeants who decide to go astray "disgusts me," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jonathan Godwin, command sergeant major for the 796th MP Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood. He was a drill sergeant from 1994 to 1996 at Fort McClellan, Ala.
"The drill sergeant family that is here training America's sons and daughters is just that, a family, we're a team. Unfortunately we have those out there that will not live up to and inculcate the Army values," he said.
The start of a personal relationship between trainees and their instructors can arise from a seemingly innocent conversation about home, family or interests. Drill sergeants are instructed, beginning in Drill Sergeant School and throughout their rotation on the trail, to avoid any personal contact whatsoever.
"The best thing you can do is have a female battle buddy because she's going to pick up on signals being given by a female trainee that a male would just be clueless to," said a former drill sergeant who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.
He described a tactic allegedly used by some female trainees to gain attention that he and other drill sergeants call "parade pretty" in which the woman will "pop her hip out, throw their hand on their hip or angle their leg out" when they're being addressed.
"The male drill sergeant will continue to talk to her and not notice, but a female will pull her aside and let her have it," the former drill said.
Since the Aberdeen scandal, conditions for reporting have been beefed up, chaplains are regularly made available and soldiers are strongly encouraged to speak up to those outside their immediate chain of command when they think something is wrong, even with another trainee.
"Each of these soldiers is teamed up with a battle buddy. Wherever they go, they are together. That assists a great deal, too," said Brig. Gen. David Phillips, commandant of the Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood.
Staff Sgt. Leslie Ledding's military occupational specialty is firefighter, but she's been a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood since April 2007. Giving her derelict fellow drill sergeants no slack and deriding them for giving all drill sergeants a black eye, Ledding pointed out that the misconduct is always an informed decision.
"When a drill sergeant begins an improper relationship with a soldier, they know full well they are not supposed to. So they do so in full knowledge that what they're doing is wrong and they know what the potential outcome is," said Ledding, Fort Leonard Wood's 2007 drill sergeant of the year. "I'll always be baffled by that."
'Repugnant to the core values'
The revelation of disciplinary lapses by the very soldiers entrusted with the Army's newest recruits comes at a time when the Army has openly admitted it has a continuing and rising problem with sexual assault and abuse in its ranks.
Acknowledging it has a sexual assault rate that is double that of the other services, the Army's top leaders held a weeklong mandatory gathering of division and above Army leaders in September. They rolled out a new sexual assault prevention and response campaign with a zero tolerance message.
Army Secretary Pete Geren addressed the leaders and even raised the ugly subject in his keynote address at the October symposium of the Association of the U.S. Army.
"Sexual assault is a crime that is repugnant to the core values that define our Army ... a profound disgrace because we're a values-based organization," Geren said.
At Fort Leonard Wood, one sexual misconduct case is pending court-martial, and other investigations into the same types of offenses are ongoing, Chief of Military Justice Capt. Mary Leavitt said.
At the training companies, where most drill sergeants never incur an offense, there is a call to renew the commitment to the youngest soldiers and each other.
"We do everything within our power to prevent these things from happening. We watch each other closely. So when someone's behind the scenes, and they're doing these things, it's not openly being done," said Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Kirkland from the MP School. "It's a criminal mind and they're taking advantage of some breakdown in our control measures."
The following details of the 12 drill sergeants and AIT instructors convicted at Fort Leonard Wood from February 2007 to November were provided by Leavitt.
• Staff Sgt. Willie Myles, 82nd Chemical Battalion. In June and July 2006, he had sex with a trainee, twice in the barracks while other trainees served as lookouts and once at a hotel off post. He also disarmed the alarm system and diverted other fireguards to meet privately with a trainee. In March 2007, he pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 350-6, disobeying an officer, making a false official statement and adultery. He was sentenced to reduction to E-3, seven months' confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Sgt. 1st Class Erin Nichols, 43rd Adjutant General Battalion. In March 2007, he engaged in sexual touching, intercourse, oral sex, kissing and personal conversations with a trainee. In July 2007, he pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 350-6. He was sentenced to reduction to E-3, 90 days' hard labor and 30 days confinement.
• Staff Sgt. Chad Smith,795th MP Battalion. From January to March 2007, he had sex with a trainee twice. He pleaded guilty in July 2007 to violating Regulation 350-6, making a false official statement and adultery. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, eight months' confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Staff Sgt. Travis Dauer, 82nd Chemical Battalion. From July to November 2006, he had sex with four different trainees in laundry, supply, hotel and hospital rooms, his truck and his home. He pleaded guilty in February 2007 to violating Regulation 350-6. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, 18 months' confinement, total forfeiture of pay and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Sgt. 1st Class Robert Sillaway, 10th Infantry Regiment. From December 2005 to March 2006, he had personal and sexual relationships with three trainees in locations on and off post, including in a vehicle while another trainee drove and three times at a fellow drill sergeant's apartment with the consent of the drill sergeant. He was caught asking each of the trainees to deny the relationship. In May 2007, he pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 350-6. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, one year of confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Staff Sgt. Flexner Masadao, 10th Infantry Regiment. From September to November 2006, he drove three female trainees off post in his personal vehicle, engaging in sexual touching with one of them and serving alcohol. He also mistreated seven trainees who accused him of grabbing, stroking, kissing, placing his hand under clothing, rubbing near a crotch and rubbing a breast, as well as making sexual comments in front of other trainees. In June 2007, he pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of violating Regulation 350-6, maltreatment and aiding absentees, but he was found guilty of all charges in court-martial proceedings. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, three years' confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Staff Sgt. Steven Schrank, 169th Engineer Battalion. In August 2008, he helped a trainee go absent without leave and engaged in a personal relationship with her, including sexual intercourse, texting, driving her in his personal vehicle, taking her to his home, going on dates and social outings, and talking on the phone. He pleaded guilty in November to violating Regulation 350-6, making a false official statement and adultery. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, eight months' confinement, forfeiture of pay for eight months and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Staff Sgt. Edward Smart, 796th MP Battalion. In June and July 2008, he had sexual intercourse with trainee at his home. In November, he pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 350-6 and adultery. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, 90 days' confinement and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Staff Sgt. Marc Kiriou, 796th MP Battalion. In July 2008, he entertained three male trainees and one female trainee at his home, had sex with the woman and served alcohol to all of them, including an underage man. In November, he pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 350-6, making a false official statement and adultery. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, 10 months' confinement, forfeiture of pay for 10 months and a bad-conduct discharge.
• Staff Sgt. Michael Spears, 577th Engineer Battalion. In September 2006, he met a trainee at an off-post club, drove her to his home, had sex with her, and later tried to get the trainee to delete text messages and deny the relationship. In March 2007, he pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 350-6, making a false official statement and adultery. He was sentenced to reduction to E-3 and five months' confinement.
• Staff Sgt. Colbey Strange, 169th Engineer Battalion. In late 2006 and early 2007, he had a sex with a trainee twice. In July 2007, he pleaded guilty to violating Regulation 350-6, disobeying an officer and adultery. He was sentenced to reduction to E-3, forfeiture of two-thirds of pay for three months and 90 days' hard labor.
• Staff Sgt. Heriberto Rosa Hernandez, 43rd Adjutant General Battalion. As a processing noncommissioned officer in the reception battalion from January 2006 to March 2007, he had inappropriate relationships with three trainees and indecently assaulted one of them. He pleaded not guilty to violating Regulation 350-6 and adultery, but was found guilty of the charges in court-martial. He was sentenced to reduction to E-2, 60 days' confinement and a non-punitive discharge.