- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2005

FORT KNOX, Ky. (AP) — The recruits of Echo Company stumbled off the bus for basic training at Fort Knox to the screams of red-faced drill instructors.

That much was expected. But it got worse from there.

Echo Company’s top drill instructor seized a recruit by the back of the neck and threw him to the ground.

Once inside the barracks, Pvt. Jason Steenberger said, he was struck in the chest by the top drill instructor and kicked “like a football.” Andrew Soper, who has since left the Army, said he was slapped and punched in the chest by another drill instructor. Pvt. Adam Roster said he was hit in the back and slammed into a locker.

Eventually, four Army drill instructors and the company commander were brought up on charges. Four have been convicted so far.

The tough-as-nails drill instructor who berates and intimidates recruits is a familiar figure to generations who went through the Army or the Marines, and a stock character in the movies — “Full Metal Jacket” and “An Officer and a Gentleman,” among them. The idea was to break the recruit down, instill discipline and make him a well-trained part of a cohesive fighting unit.

But Army regulations in effect since 1985 say superiors cannot lay a hand on their recruits to discipline them. The Army’s Training and Doctrine Command regulations also disallow any physical or verbal hazing, which includes “cruel or abusive tricks.” Vulgar or sexually explicit language is also prohibited.

The guidelines reflect some of the lessons of the Vietnam era and the changing culture of the Army, which became an all-volunteer force with the end of the draft.

The Army gets complaints of abuse by drill sergeants “all the time, but we often find that they are not founded,” said Connie Shaffery, a Fort Knox spokeswoman.

The Fort Knox case, involving a unit of the 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, was unusual, too, in that a company commander was convicted.

The abuse took place in early February. An Army investigation began the next week, as the company’s leaders were removed and the 25 recruits were sent to another command. Six of the trainees have since left the Army, including two who went AWOL.

Staff Sgt. Jason J. Harris, a drill instructor who has not been charged in the scandal, testified at one court-martial that it was the worst treatment of recruits he had ever seen.

Former Staff Sgt. David H. Price, Echo Company’s head drill sergeant, said on the witness stand at his own court-martial in April that he was “burned out” from being a drill instructor for too long. He also said that he thought the guidelines on abuse limited his ability to turn recruits into tough soldiers.

Former Capt. William C. Fulton, 35, the company’s commander, was convicted last week of false swearing and dereliction of duty for not halting the abuse. He was sentenced to six months’ confinement.

Earlier this year, Price was convicted of maltreatment and demoted, as was former Staff Sgt. Ricky L. Stauffer. Former Staff Sgt. Michael G. Rhoades was found guilty of maltreatment and impeding an investigation, and received a bad-conduct discharge. Staff Sgt. Bryan G. Duncan is awaiting a court-martial.

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