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Leaders stand behind sexual assault safeguards

Dec. 4, 2012 - 11:35AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 4, 2012 - 11:35AM  |  
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Fort Jackson, S.C., and the Army as a whole, have a variety of safeguards and procedures intended to protect trainees, officials said.

They include:

• Assigning a female drill sergeant to every training platoon. Each platoon has four drill sergeants.

• Having at least one female drill sergeant on duty at all times.

• Implementing the buddy system, where every trainee is paired up with a battle buddy.

"They don't go anywhere without the battle buddy," said Col. David L. Wilcox, chief of staff for the Initial Military Training Center of Excellence, which is responsible for basic training and falls under Training and Doctrine Command. "When they go to sick call, they go in pairs. When they go to the chow hall, they go in pairs."

• Using cameras in common areas and alarms on the doors for all entrances and exits.

• Having leaders, from company leadership up through battalion and brigade, conduct regular checks throughout the day and week.

The Army must "make every single effort to ensure we take care and protect those victims and ensure they receive the right support they need," said Wilcox, who spoke to Army Times following the conviction of now-Pvt. Luis R. Corral, a former drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, for sexually assaulting or harassing five female trainees.

The Army has four major basic training sites: Fort Jackson; Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Fort Sill, Okla. All of the sites except Fort Benning conduct gender-integrated training, Wilcox said.

The Army has about 2,200 male drill sergeants and 430 female drill sergeants, Wilcox said.

Drill sergeants undergo a "very rigorous" selection process and attend a nine-week school to prepare for their two-year tours, he said.

And all drill sergeants — and any leader who comes into contact with trainees — undergo Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training, as well as 13 additional hours of training on how to properly treat a trainee, Wilcox said.

"We have specific regulations that cover what you can or can't do with a trainee, and it's taught to drill sergeants and also [advanced individual training] platoon sergeants, company commanders, first sergeants," he said. "That training also is taught in what we call our pre-command courses for our battalion and brigade leadership."

While "mature processes are in place for protecting trainees, we always look to improve those processes, whether it's through the training of our drill sergeants, [or] the training of our leadership" Wilcox said.

Wilcox, who became the chief of staff at IMT in September, said he has a personal stake in wanting to ensure trainees are safe and protected: His daughter plans to enter the Army.

More than 60 percent of all new female soldiers go through basic combat training at Fort Jackson, said Col. Kenneth Royalty, Fort Jackson's chief of staff. In total, about 12,000 female soldiers were trained at Fort Jackson in fiscal 2012.

All of the training at Fort Jackson is mixed-gender, and the goal is to have at least one female drill sergeant in each training platoon, Royalty said.

Fort Jackson has 670 drill sergeants — 220 of them women.

The post adheres to IMT's regulations and policies, Royalty said, including the battle buddy system and separate and secure living bays for male and female trainees.

Drill sergeants conduct peer evaluations, and unit leaders conduct mid- and end-of-cycle sensing sessions to give trainees the opportunity to raise issues or concerns, he said.

There also is always a female drill sergeant on duty at the battalion level, so there is no reason for a male drill sergeant to enter a female bay unaccompanied, Royalty said.

Natasha Woodruff, one of Corral's victims, said that despite that guideline, "not one time did a female drill sergeant accompany a male drill sergeant in our bays."

The same happened in the male bays, Woodruff said, where female drill sergeants would enter those areas without a male drill sergeant.

"If that's the rule, it was definitely out the window," she said.

When asked about Woodruff's allegation, TRADOC spokesman Harvey Perritt said it will be addressed in an ongoing 15-6 investigation.

Woodruff also said she wants to know if the Army trains its soldiers on sexual assault prevention, "why didn't anybody know what to do" when she reported what had happened to her.

"As a recruit, you're pretty much stripped of everything you know," she said. "You don't know how the Army works. The only thing you know is what [your drill sergeants] tell you."

Woodruff, who graduated from basic training in February, said she loves the Army, despite what happened to her.

"I know it's not the Army that's bad," Woodruff said. "I just got a big group of bad people. I'm just looking to get the bad people out, so the people who deserve to be here can be here."

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