ST. LOUIS — Twelve years after a military sex scandal that led to changes in Army training, Fort Leonard Wood has seen a stream of cases in which drill sergeants have been accused of sexual misconduct with women trainees.
Since February 2007, at least 14 drill sergeants or other trainers have faced courts-martial for improper relationships with soldiers undergoing basic training, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in its Sunday editions.
One was not convicted, and two cases are pending. Of those who were convicted, most were sentenced to reductions in rank, loss of pay and bad-conduct discharges. In cases involving consensual sex, the trainees also received punishment, which can include loss of pay, confinement, reduction in rank and dismissal from the Army.
The cases since February 2007 included a 16-year veteran accused of having sex with five of his soldiers, including once in a vehicle while another recruit drove and a drill sergeant accused of helping three female recruits go AWOL and having sex with one. The Post-Dispatch also reported that several of the drill sergeants deactivated barracks alarms to gain access to the trainees and gave them alcohol.
Many of the sexual misconduct cases involved consensual sex, but an Army spokesman noted that drill sergeants should never have any kind of personal relationship with a recruit.
"It's a command relationship that can't be abused," said Harvey Perritt, spokesman for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, which oversees training. "It can't be."
Perritt acknowledged an increase in sexual misconduct cases, while also noting similar increases in suicides and drug and alcohol abuse, not just at training bases, but across the Army.
"The Army is under a lot of stress," Perritt said. "People are tired. ... We've been at war for seven years. That takes a toll on the force."
Fort Leonard Wood is one of two Army installations that offers gender-integrated basic training. Each year, about 30,000 soldiers, about a third of whom are women, undergo basic training at the Missouri post, which has 503 drill sergeants, 96 of whom are women.
Capt. Mary Leavitt, chief of military justice for the office of the staff judge advocate at Fort Leonard Wood, said her office prosecuted at least 14 sexual misconduct cases involving drill sergeants and trainees that took place between November 2005 and July 2008. She said most cases were revealed after the trainee or a fellow recruit reported the behavior, not through a targeted investigation.
"The drill sergeants are the senior people in the situation and they've been in the Army more than a day," Leavitt said. "They understand the rules and what the consequences are. They're held to a much higher standard because of their position of trust as a trainer and mentor."
Still, the post and the Army have been dealing with the issue for years. Investigators uncovered widespread misconduct at Fort Leonard Wood two years after gender-integrated training began there. The abuse cases came to light toward the end of 1996, about the same time a military-wide investigation turned up similar cases at other installations around the country.
At Fort Leonard Wood, 17 drill instructors were either convicted, pleaded guilty or received discharges in lieu of courts-martial as a result of the investigations.
In response to the military-wide scandal, the Army instituted changes, such as requiring more training on sexual harassment and more comprehensive background checks for drill sergeants, and increasing the number of female drill sergeants.
Col. Maria R. Gervais, who recently researched sexual misconduct during basic training while a student at the Army War College, has found that incidents of drill sergeants involved in sexual misconduct continue to plague training installations and "have continued to increase at an alarming rate."
Since 2005, sexual misconduct allegations against drill sergeants increased each year. In 2007, 68 percent of all trainee abuse allegations involved drill sergeant sexual misconduct, far ahead of complaints about physical or verbal abuse.
The Army is starting a new program in which unit leaders sit down with female recruits, away from drill sergeants, to teach them how to prevent and report such incidents.
"People are imperfect, but we do try to maintain a perfect training environment," Perritt said. "We're not going to sit back and say that goal is unattainable."