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Soldiers say Army 'microcosm' of U.S.

November 14, 1996

11/14/96

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

FORT RITCHIE - With sexual harassment in Army military training units making headlines, some women soldiers at Fort Ritchie said that they've seen or known about harassment in the armed services. The soldiers, however, characterized the environment at the base in positive terms.

Sgt. April Bliss, 29, said she remembers drill sergeants fraternizing with people they were training.

"Drill sergeants would go inside your room and like lure you and ... see if we're going to bite," she said. One of her roommates went out with the drill sergeant, who was eventually reprimanded, she said.

Bliss said that one of the problems is that young soldiers don't always know their rights. "At that time, we figured it was normal to be treated (poorly)," she said.

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Staff Sgt. Gwen Humphrey, 36, said she knew of some women who became involved in quid pro quo arrangements with instructors. They would receive special treatment, and wouldn't tell afterward because it could hurt their careers and not just the instructors, she said.

"You're going to find it everywhere, not just in the military," said Spc. Teresa Deatrich, 23. She said she's been treated equally and hasn't seen sexual harassment. She gives part of the credit to mandatory sexual harassment awareness training.

The Army has been rocked in recent weeks by a sexual harassment scandal.

Four drill instructors and a captain at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland have been charged with raping, sexually harassing or having improper contact with at least a dozen young women recruits. The Army has also announced that a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., pleaded guilty to having sex with three women recruits.

Young recruits vulnerable

Spc. Mike Casey, 27, said the subject is brought up often by commanders at Fort Ritchie. "They make it a big issue (so) it's not a big issue," he said. "We don't want to be put on the map as a place that has sexual harassment problems."

Maj. Teresa Polk, 43, said that she has never seen anything that she would characterize as sexual harassment in more than 15 years with the Army.

Polk said that the training problems appeared to be widespread but said it wasn't too surprising considering the vulnerability of young, naive recruits and the power of drill sergeants over their lives. The recruits are told to do whatever the drill sergeant says. "Whatever you tell them they're going to do it," Polk said.

What surprised her about the scandal is that instructors would jeopardize their careers by acting improperly.

Air Force 2nd Lt. Afi Johnson, 24, on temporary assignment at Fort Ritchie, said the problem wasn't just in the Army. "All of the services are going to have it because we're a microcosm of society," she said. She said some in her class harassed her and other women and made comments "about how women aren't mechanically inclined" or "You're lucky to be here so it's OK for us to be this way."

"The majority of the senior officers are from the old school when it was a boys' club," she said.

Procedures under review

Fighting sexual harassment had received a high priority at area military bases before the recent scandals at military training installations, according to public affairs officers at Fort Ritchie, Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., and Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pa.

Now, the bases have been directed to review their procedures on harassment. All three have discrimination hotlines and other measures, such as awareness education, in place to combat harassment.

At Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) program, every employee had to take four hours of training, said spokesman Norm Covert. That was recently upgraded to include follow-up training of one hour every six months, he said.

"Our policy is zero tolerance," Covert said. "There is no gray area."

Detrick recently had a sexual harassment case this year involving improper touching and a harassing work atmosphere that resulted in a noncommissioned officer being reprimanded, Covert said. The officer left the military shortly afterward.

The other bases reported no sexual harassment complaints lodged by soldiers.

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