The Army has suspended several instructors at Fort Sill over allegations they sexually assaulted a female soldier going through initial training at the Oklahoma base.
Agents from Army Criminal Investigation Command are investigating the allegations leveled at Fort Sill cadre, according to a Fort Sill press release. Officials said the “potentially involved” cadre, which typically includes officers and noncommissioned officers responsible for conducting and overseeing the training of new soldiers, have all been suspended and removed from the trainee environment.
According to The Intercept, the trainee reported multiple assaults by 22 service members, including several drill sergeants. The trainee’s report “identified seven of the 22 members she said assaulted her,” according to The Intercept. An Army spokesperson declined to specify the number of suspects involved.
The trainee made her report on March 27, according to Maj. Gen. Ken Kamper, the commander of the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, who told reporters on Thursday that she is “absolutely safe” and has “special victims counsel and access to all victims services.”
“We’re just heartbroken, just sad, sad that something like this happened,” Kamper said. “On a personal level it is just heartbreaking.”
The trainee has met with Fort Sill leadership and “is receiving updates from the chain of command,” said officials, who added that the Army was sending “additional specialized CID personnel” and attorneys to Fort Sill.
Chris Grey, a spokesman for Army CID, confirmed the allegations were under investigation and being taken “extremely seriously.” CID agents conducted interviews regarding the alleged assault on the day it was reported, according to Kamper, and then again on March 29 and “every day since.”
A military official told The Intercept that they’d “heard the term ‘sex ring’ thrown around.” Col. Cathy Wilkinson, an Army spokeswoman, told Task & Purpose that reports of a video of one of the incidents being obtained by investigators is false.
Sexual relationships of any kind between trainees and drill sergeants are considered sexual assault, according to a defense official, because the Army considers trainees incapable of consent given the power dynamics.
The allegations come amid intense scrutiny of the Army’s response to sexual assault and harassment following an explosive report released last year, which revealed the service’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program to be broken, inefficient, and often ignored by leadership. Army investigators probed the SHARP program after the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillén. Guillén, who was brutally murdered by another soldier in April 2020, was said to have been sexually harassed but feared reporting it, according to her family.
Army officials later found that leaders at Fort Hood had created a toxic environment for women at the base, which investigators found “permissive” of sexual assault and harassment.
Though many details remain unclear about the incident at Fort Sill, the Air Force was rocked by a similar scandal in 2011 when reports of sexual violence at the hands of training instructors began to surface. Investigators found that 62 trainees from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, were sexually assaulted or subjected to “other improper conduct” by 32 instructors between 2009 and 2012, according to the New York Times.
An Army official said on Friday that if the number of suspects at Fort Sill is “really that high, it’s incomprehensible.”
“It’s staggering to me.”
Update: This post was updated after publication to include comment from Col. Cathy Wilkinson, who said reports of investigators having video of one of the incidents is false.
Featured photo: A Drill Sergeant walks down the rows of soldiers at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.