- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

They get detention for passing love notes in class, holding hands, kissing, giving foot massages, smiling suggestively and uttering sexually tinged language.

An American high school?

No. It's basic training in the new U.S. military.

Hundreds of disciplinary reports collected by a congressional commission show that today's military drill instructors appear just as busy keeping the sexes apart as they do molding young people into obedient soldiers. The reports were reviewed by The Washington Times after the commission recently deposited the unpublicized reports at the National Archives.

One report said a female recruit at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., "wrongfully allowed a soldier of the opposite sex to massage your feet." The indulgence cost each private $194 in pay and 14 days of restriction.

Another report said a male trainee at Fort McClellan, Ala., was fined for "wrongfully sharing your care package with two females and smiling at them instead of sharing your package with your battle buddy."

Two trainees engaged in "public sex" at a base in Mississippi.

The punishments, known in the military as Article 15 nonjudicial punishments, were documented by the Congressional Commission on Training and Gender-Related Issues. The commission did not release the reams of Article 15 write-ups when submitting a 2,700-page report to Congress last summer, but did eventually transfer them to the archives.

A review of hundreds of Army Article 15 documents dated 1996 to 1998 show instructors were kept busy policing the sexes at a time when their main task is to teach military skills. The most common sexual offense was physical contact in coed barracks.

"The reports show that basic training has become more of a summer camp than preparation for war," said Jim Renne, a legal counsel for the commission, which went out of business after submitting the report.

"It reaffirms the overwhelming view of drill instructors that basic training has become primarily a baby-sitting exercise," said Mr. Renne, who opposes mixed-sex boot camp.

Mr. Renne said no analysis of the reports was included in the final commission report because of an internal dispute over what conclusions to draw.

The reports, however, do seem to dovetail with polling data produced by the commission.

The surveys found that only 11 percent of drill instructors and other trainee supervisors made positive comments about the state of recruit training.

Said the commission report, "New recruits were frequently characterized as lazy, selfish, out of shape, undisciplined, lacking in morals, challenging every order or decision or rule, having no respect for authority … and unwilling to shift from an individual mentality to a team orientation."

A resounding 76 percent of male trainers and 74 percent of female trainers said discipline had dropped either "somewhat" or "significantly" since 1993, about the time the Navy and Army switched to mixing the sexes in basic training. The Air Force has integrated the sexes since the 1970s. The Marine Corps is the only service to train them separately, saying it wants recruits to focus on becoming Marines without opposite-sex distractions.

An earlier report by the Army inspector general quoted drill sergeants as saying they felt powerless to stop sex between recruits.

The Army has taken the brunt of congressional criticism over mixed-sex training because of several highly publicized sex scandals at its training bases, including Fort Leonard Wood and the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Army officials say they took steps, beginning in 1998, to reduce incidents of sexual hanky-panky. They installed alarm systems and put up partitions between same-floor male and female quarters. At some training bases, surveillance cameras were installed to ensure unauthorized personnel do not enter a barracks.

Ray Harp, a spokesman for Army Training and Doctrine Command, said, "I know there has been a concerted effort to combat this problem."

The military defends coed basic training by saying they want soldiers who fight together to train together. Army officials point out that the majority of male soldiers go through boot camp in all-male units. They are future infantry, armor and artillery soldiers jobs off-limits to women.

The Article 15 reports from Fort Leonard Wood, one of two Army bases that trains coed recruits, show a wide variety of sexual missteps.

Recruits were punished for blowing kisses, holding hands, fondling each other, having sex with trainers, vulgar language, writing love letters and trespassing in the opposite sex's barracks section. One male private was fined for sitting between the feet of a female recruit.

Opponents of the current system say such disciplinary problems are reason to scrap sex integration at basic training.

The issue seemed to die last summer, when the congressional commission voted 6-3, with one abstention, to let the services train recruits the way they see fit.

In effect, the recommendation offset a 1997 finding from a Pentagon-appointed panel, led by former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker, that male and female recruits be housed in separate barracks and separated at the small-unit level. Mrs. Baker, a Kansas Republican, called the unanimous recommendation a "common sense" approach, but Defense Secretary William S. Cohen rejected the advice.

Now, the debate has been revived in the 2000 presidential election. Aides for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican front-runner, say he will change policy by separating the sexes during initial training.

Vice President Al Gore, the leading Democratic presidential candidate, recently told the American Legion magazine he will let each branch decide.

Henry Hamilton, a lawyer in South Carolina who defends personnel charged with sexual offenses, analyzed the Article 15 reports at the commission's request. He said he performed no statistical analysis, but discovered a general practice of not punishing female recruits who had consensual sex with supervisors.

"Males were punished more often than females with whom they violated the gender policy," he said. "There were very few instances of females being punished, especially when they engaged in consensual sexual acts with drill sergeants. There was a disparate underdisciplining of females. This says that females aren't responsible. It says that all males are responsible."

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