Sexual Incident Puts Army On The Spot

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson reports that Army leaders "are shattered and grieved" by allegations that the service's top enlisted man, a member of the Army's high-profile panel on sexual harassment problems, aggressively attempted to seduce a female subordinate during a business trip to Hawaii. Says Thompson: "They're still in a daze over this." Sergeant Major Gene McKinney resigned his post on the panel amid press reports of the accusation by Sgt. Major Brenda L. Hoster, his former public relations assistant and speechwriter, who took early retirement when her report of the incident received a hostile reception by Army brass. The timing couldn't be worse for the Army, which has to take its budget to Congress next week. Thompson says the incident could provide a convenient lightning rod for congressional leaders like House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has pledged to "shrink the Pentagon to the size of a triangle." Thompson notes: "It doesn't allow you to talk about your new tanks if you have to talk about this sergeant major. When you have to take your eye off the ball, you tend to lose battles." Despite McKinney's previously untarnished record, the effect on the morale of enlisted personnel, 10-12 percent of whom are women, is not expected to improve matters for the Army. "Every grunt in the army looks to the sergeant major to look out for his or her interests," says Thompson. "What these allegations are doing is sending a very strong signal of 'How can I look to a sexual harraser to represent my interests?'"