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At Fort Leonard Wood, too, a 63,000-acre base in the Ozarks, there have been reports that fraternization between drill sergeants and recruits was common knowledge. Angelia Shirley, 19, one of the soldiers to testify against Sergeant Loren Taylor, who was found guilty last week of having consensual sex with three women in 1995, told reporters that her "battle buddy" knew she was involved with Taylor, and she is "pretty sure other drill sergeants knew. Drill sergeants talk, just like girls talk. It's part of life."
That may be so, but many soldiers at Aberdeen expressed profound shame at the scandal swirling around them. Phillip Cook, 31, a drill sergeant with the 143rd's Bravo Company, says he saw fear in the eyes of his newest class of trainees, who arrived at Aberdeen on Nov. 9, just after the allegations made headlines around the country. "It took a lot of the power base away from my hat," he says, referring to the distinctive Smokey the Bear hat worn by training sergeants. "It used to be when they saw this hat, they knew that I was a straight-and-narrow type of person, and that I knew exactly what to do. But now there's a question in the privates' minds." Many new trainees do feel betrayed. "The drill sergeant tells you when to eat, when to wake--they feel like parents," says Salgador-Hill. "So when something like this happens, it hurts." The Army is reinforcing a buddy system that requires trainees to travel in pairs. Cook, for one, applauds it. "I don't talk to any soldiers alone," he says. "to protect both them and me."
It will take a lot more than a buddy system to reassure the 196,000 women who make up 13% of the armed forces. A survey released by the Pentagon in July found that although relations were improving, 52% of the nearly 50,000 respondents felt they had been sexually harassed in 1995. The problem, explains one officer who says her career was derailed after she filed assault charges against a superior, is that the people investigating complaints are often the abusers.
Many soldiers interviewed at Aberdeen and Fort Leonard Wood wonder if the attraction between a recruit and a drill sergeant sometimes flows both ways--if, that is, some of the young women are to blame--but Army officials, at least publicly, reject this argument. "Who's the vulnerable party?" asks Major Ralph Palmiero, executive officer of the 2nd Battalion 47th Infantry Division at Fort Leonard Wood. "A new private who is so scared and vulnerable, who doesn't understand the Army? Or a drill sergeant, who definitely knows better?" Now that the military has decided to ask, it is likely that more women soldiers will start to tell.
--Reported by Sharman Stein/Fort Leonard Wood and Mark Thompson/Aberdeen