WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee said he was “appalled” by the details of an Army briefing lawmakers received today on “troubling” allegations of sexual abuse involving drill sergeants at Fort Benning in Georgia.
The base announced in August that an unspecified number of drill sergeants had been temporarily suspended after a single accusation of sexual assault by a female trainee led investigators with the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command to uncover more incidents and broaden their inquiry.
This week, the Army fired Lt. Col. Robert Howard, commander of 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade. “The commander was relieved for a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” Fort Benning spokesman Ben Garrett told Military.com on Tuesday.
Subcommittee Chairman Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) noted in a statement after the briefing that “drill sergeants are entrusted with the sacred duty of transforming civilians into disciplined and proficient soldiers,” and “the possibility that certain individuals would abuse their positions of trust in order to take advantage of trainees is unfathomable.”
“I expect the Army to thoroughly investigate these serious allegations and take appropriate action against anyone who is found to have violated the law,” he said. “…While I am encouraged by the work that has been done so far, this briefing made clear that the Services must do more.”
Coffman mentioned the multiple briefings and hearings his subcommittee has held on sexual misconduct in the military. “As in years past, the House-passed FY 18 National Defense Authorization Act contains several additional tools to strengthen the military’s response to sexual assault,” he said. “However, all of these improvements are useless without continued emphasis and personal involvement from military commanders.”
The dismissing of the battalion commander in the Fort Benning case “sends an important message that must be heeded by all Services: If commanders are unable or unwilling to offer the sustained personal engagement this issue requires, perhaps it is time to hold them accountable as well.”
“The Military Personnel Subcommittee intends to continue its robust oversight to ensure commanders are doing everything they can to keep servicemembers safe,” the chairman added.