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Pfc. Natasha Woodruff said she was forcibly kissed and groped by Staff Sgt. Luis R. Corral, but when she tried to report the incident, other drill sergeants tried to talk her out of it. (Mike Morones/Army Times)
Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions that may be disturbing.
The Army is investigating whether drill sergeants at Fort Jackson, S.C., tried to cover up reports that a fellow instructor sexually assaulted a female trainee.
Staff Sgt. Luis R. Corral was convicted Nov. 15 on charges of forcible sodomy, abusive sexual contact, assault and other charges for his mistreatment of five female trainees — the latest in a number of sexual assault or harassment cases involving drill sergeants.
Two other drill sergeants from Fort Jackson, in unrelated cases, are under investigation. One is accused of groping a trainee, and another is accused of rubbing his groin against a female trainee. In October, a third drill sergeant was discharged in lieu of court-martial for having sex and oral sex with a trainee. Last year, another drill sergeant was court-martialed for having sex with a trainee, according to Training and Doctrine Command.
Corral was sentenced to five years in confinement, busted down to private, forfeited all pay and allowances, and will get a bad-conduct discharge when he gets out of the brig. He also must register as a sex offender.
In a case that has rocked Army basic combat training, Army officials are reviewing how officials responded to complaints by one of Corral's victims, which eventually revealed details about five recruits assaulted by Corral.
Officials at Training and Doctrine Command on Nov. 26 appointed an investigating officer to conduct an AR 15-6 investigation into how the case was handled, said Harvey Perritt, a TRADOC spokesman.
"The scope of the investigation includes whether reporting policies and regulations were followed, whether cadre in [one of the victims'] unit and her chain of command took appropriate action in dealing with her, both as a victim and as a witness, and whether current policies and regulations are adequate," Perritt said. "In addition, Fort Jackson, through [Criminal Investigation Command], is conducting a criminal investigation regarding alleged intimidation and cover-up."
This investigation will likely consider why it took the Army at least two days for the incident to get the attention promised by the Army's "get tough" policy on sexual assault.
The Army has "no indications" of situations at other basic training locations similar to what the victim has alleged happened in her training unit, Perritt said.
So far, no new procedures or measures have been implemented at Fort Jackson or any of the other basic training locations, Perritt said.
"However, part of the scope of the investigation is to determine if new procedures or measures are required, as well as determining whether existing procedures were followed," he said.
Army Times typically does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Pfc. Natasha Woodruff said she is speaking out to ensure justice is served. Woodruff has since gotten married and changed her name. Army Times has agreed to use her maiden name for this article.
Woodruff, 20, said Corral forcibly kissed and groped her, but when she tried to report the incident, other drill sergeants tried to talk her out of it.
"You don't want to open that can of worms, Private," Woodruff said one drill sergeant told her.
"That's my battle buddy's career you're trying to f—- up," she said the drill sergeant said.
Her first sergeant didn't believe her, Woodruff said. Her company commander launched a commander's inquiry — an action the Army is said to be revisiting to determine whether he should instead have turned over Woodruff's allegations to military police or Criminal Investigation Command.
For at least two days, "I had drill sergeant after drill sergeant call me a piece of s—-, calling me a liar," Woodruff said. "I was doing pushups, they harassed me, they put me down. It was horrible."
During that time, Woodruff said, she heard rumors that Corral had assaulted other trainees, but no one was willing to come forward.
"Everybody was so scared because they had seen what was happening to me," she said.
It wasn't until she approached the battalion command sergeant major as he was making his rounds during training that the matter was referred to CID, Woodruff said.
After Woodruff reported what happened to her to the senior noncommissioned officer, he called an impromptu meeting with all of the female trainees in the company, Woodruff said.
"He said, ‘I need to know what's going on. If [Corral's] doing this, I need to get him out of here,'" Woodruff said. "That's when the others came forward."
The command sergeant major huddled with the women for about an hour and a half, and CID was called that day, Woodruff said.
During the initial investigation, Woodruff and two other victims spent a day answering questions at CID. As they waited for transport to drop them off in the field with the rest of their platoon, Corral showed up in the office in civilian clothes.
"The two other girls flipped. They were hysterical, crying," she said. "He was in there, and we were told we would never have to see him again. We were told a lot of things that didn't happen."
Another drill sergeant hustled them into a conference room, but Woodruff said she could hear Corral pacing outside the door.
"Our trust had kind of built up from the really high-up chain of command telling us it would never happen, and then it did," she said. "We were like, man, you can't trust anyone around here."
Woodruff's dad, Army veteran Bill Woodruff, said he is enraged by the way his daughter's initial report was handled.
"As soon as she said, ‘I was attacked,' they should have picked up the red bat-phone and pushed the red button," he said. "That's what makes me so mad. They knew what to do. It's frustrating because, as a dad, you can't do anything."
Col. Kenneth Royalty, Fort Jackson's chief of staff, said the Army is committed to making sure "at every step of the investigation, proper procedures and actions were taken.
"Once the review is complete, the command will determine if additional actions are required or warranted," Royalty said.
Depending on the outcome of the 15-6 investigation, additional disciplinary action may be taken against other soldiers in the unit, according to a TRADOC spokesman.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of these tragic crimes," Royalty said.
In the case of Corral, Royalty added, "justice was served."
"To me, that is a victory for the victims and the Army," he said. "That sends a very strong message."
The investigation into Corral, which included interviews with every female trainee in the company, showed he was an isolated case, Royalty said.
"What [Corral] did goes against everything our Army stands for. Fortunately, when you look at our drill sergeants, he represents less than 1 percent. You've got 99.9 percent of drill sergeants that have served and will serve honorably."
Corral, 26, is a cavalry scout (19D) who joined the Army in June 2004, according to information provided by the Army. A veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, the married Corral became a drill sergeant in 2010 and was assigned to F Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, 193rd Infantry Brigade at Fort Jackson.
The charges against Corral included:
• Five specifications of violating a lawful order, in this case by engaging in "illegal association," said Col. Steven Weir, the staff judge advocate for Fort Jackson.
• Five specifications of maltreatment of a subordinate.
• One count of abusive sexual contact and two counts of indecent conduct.
• One specification of forcible sodomy.
• One specification of assault.
• One specification of adultery.
Corral was charged with having sex and oral sex with one victim, oral sex with a second victim, kissing and groping a third victim, and using indecent language with two other victims, Weir said. In one instance, Corral was convicted of holding his victim's head down and forcibly ejaculating into her mouth, Weir said. A second victim was in the room and witnessed the incident.
All of these incidents occurred between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14, he said.
Four of Corral's five victims are still in the Army. The fifth opted to leave the service.
During his court-martial, Corral pleaded not guilty to all of the charges against him but was convicted by a seven-member panel of three officers and four enlisted soldiers.
The case against Corral came to light when Woodruff reported the assault Jan. 14, Weir said.
Corral's company commander and battalion command sergeant major both conducted inquiries into the allegations, Weir said.
During the command sergeant major's inquiry, two additional victims came forward, Weir said. The findings were provided to the battalion commander Jan. 16; a criminal investigation was launched the same day, Weir said.
On Jan. 16, Corral was ordered to have no contact with trainees and was removed from drill sergeant duties. He was placed in pretrial confinement in September.
Corral's court-martial began Nov. 13 and wrapped up that week. His legal troubles aren't over, however. Officials at Fort Jackson are reviewing the actions they took throughout the investigation because of statements made by Woodruff.
"She came out with new allegations on [Nov. 16], and we want to address them," Royalty said. "We're going to look at [our reporting procedures] one more time. We want to do everything right."
In a news article after the court-martial, Woodruff describes how other drill sergeants tried to stop her from reporting Corral's actions.
The initial CID investigation did not show any evidence of a proposed cover-up, Royalty said.
The investigation also determined the other drill sergeants did not know about Corral's actions until after they were reported, Weir said.
There was, however, evidence to support intimidation of one of the victims, Royalty said. A female drill sergeant, who, at the time, was Corral's girlfriend, was given a letter of reprimand for trying to intimidate the trainee.
The female drill sergeant did not lose her job because her chain of command believed she was manipulated by Corral and is otherwise a good performer, he said.
‘Everybody liked him'
In February, Corral is scheduled to be court-martialed again relating to his relationship with the female drill sergeant.
"Pvt. Corral is charged with forcibly entering his ex-girlfriend's apartment, assaulting her, damaging her personal property, and attempting to influence her testimony," Perritt wrote in an email. "Additional charges allege that he violated a no contact order by placing a telephone call to the same individual from subsequent pretrial confinement, again attempting to influence her testimony."
Woodruff, who's now stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., shipped to basic training in mid-November 2011. Corral was one of the four drill sergeants assigned to her platoon, Woodruff said.
At first, Corral, with his previous combat experience, was a good drill sergeant, Woodruff said.
"Anybody you talk to would say he was great as a drill sergeant," she said. "He was awesome. Everybody liked him. Male or female, he was great. He had the [previous] deployments, and he based his training on what would help you survive on the battlefield."
But after Christmas break, the trainees noticed a change in Corral's behavior, Woodruff said.
"He started making comments and making gestures," she said. "He started being more creepy."
In mid-January, Woodruff said, she and about half of her platoon mates were doing inventory to prepare for the arrival of a new company commander. As the trainees logged each item of equipment, Corral called Woodruff into his office, which was right next to the bay where everyone was working, Woodruff said.
"I walked in his office, the door's wide open, the bay's full of 30 people in there, and he asked me if I would have sex with him or if I would give him [oral sex]," Woodruff said. "I said no. He got up from his desk and said, ‘If you're not going to do any of that, you're going to kiss me.'"
Corral pulled her out of the doorway and kissed and groped her, Woodruff said.
"I pushed him away, yelled at him and ran away," Woodruff said.
Woodruff said she sought out her battle buddy, told her what happened, and the two of them went to report the incident.
Woodruff said she was picked on by the other drill sergeants until the battalion command sergeant major initiated the criminal investigation, and two other victims came forward.
"Once the other two came forward, there wasn't really much anybody could say [because] there were enough of us, then," Woodruff said.
She finished out her last few weeks of basic training and looked forward to a fresh start at advanced individual training, but her reputation followed her to Fort Belvoir, Va.
"When I went to AIT, the first sergeant emailed my next first sergeant and told him I was a troublemaker," Woodruff said. "That was before I even got there, and as soon as I got there, he said, ‘I need to talk to you.'
"I understand it's common courtesy of the chain of command, but if anything, it completely shattered my hopes of trying to forget it," she said.
Her first sergeant at Belvoir ordered her into counseling, though she said it had little effect because at that point, they wouldn't treat her as a victim. Until Corral's conviction, she was still just the accuser.
When asked about the actions of Woodruff's first sergeant, as well as allegations that Woodruff was singled out by the other drill sergeants, Perritt said the allegations are part of the ongoing investigation. However, he said the first sergeant is no longer in that duty position.
A father's concerns
Woodruff comes from a family with strong military ties, Bill Woodruff said.
"My grandfather got a Purple Heart in World War II, my stepdad got a Purple Heart in Korea, my dad served in Germany in the early ‘60s … and I was in the Army Reserve for six years," he said. "We absolutely love the Army. The Army is it."
But while the family believes in the Army, Bill Woodruff said he wants to make sure the drill sergeants who didn't help his daughter are held accountable.
"We've got a bad group of people here, and we've got to clean them up, too," he said. "I don't think they should be drill sergeants any more. They've lost that right."
Before his daughter shipped to basic training, Bill Woodruff said, he used his own experiences to prepare her.
"I told her you're going to do a lot of pushups, you're going to do a lot of running, you're going to get yelled at," he said. "I told her, you're going to hate it and love it at the same time."
When Natasha Woodruff came home for Christmas break, her father's prediction had come true.
"When she came home, she said, ‘This is really hard, but you're right. I love it,'" Bill Woodruff said. "We talked about it all over Christmas break. She was eating it up. Then middle of January is when all this broke loose, and she doesn't really know who to trust now."
Standing around 6 feet tall in her patrol cap, Natasha Woodruff is warm and candid and spoke to Army Times openly about her "beautiful" new husband and the trials of their life together in Fayetteville.
She decided to stand her ground with Corral partly because she wanted to be open and honest with the man she was planning to marry.
Natasha Woodruff said things are different now at Fort Bragg. She said she loves her job and said she has the full support of her company command as new investigations open.
"They know that it's going to take time," she said. "And they're OK with that."
Staff writer Meghann Myers contributed to this report from Fort Bragg, N.C.