Aberdeen: Part One

In 1996-1997, I was the lead prosecutor in the largest investigation and prosecution in the history of the U.S. Army up to that time.  During what came to be known as the Aberdeen Scandal, a dozen or so non-commissioned officers (NCOs) or sergeants and one officer came to be prosecuted.  They were either confined to prison or fired from the Army with unfavorable discharges.

As a result of the largest investigation in Army history, thousands of female trainees were interviewed and hundreds came forward alleging instances of sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual relations with male superiors.  It was later determined that a massive breakdown in the Army’s leadership structure and loss of core Army values had resulted.  After the prosecutions and media feeding frenzy had subsided, the Army was never the same.  Neither was I.

Part One

In 1995, I was a Captain serving on active duty at the Army’s largest installation, Fort Hood in central Texas.  I had a beautiful wife, a newly-born infant and a house.  I was a trial counsel or prosecutor.  After getting a few big trials under my belt, the Army and I determined that I was ready for a change.

My father-in-law was ill at the time, and we requested a change of duty stations to be posted closer to Running Girl’s parents in New Jersey.  The Army complied.  They sent us to Aberdeen Proving Ground (or APG), a training post located on a beautiful peninsula in Chesapeake Bay about 30 minutes north of Baltimore.

APG was an interesting place.  By virtue of the fact that few people were allowed to live there, it was a large nature preserve.  We occasional observed families of bald eagles flying overhead.  However, it was the Army’s major testing facility.  Therefore, during the duty day, an explosion would take place every few minutes.  We grew used to this phenomenon.  As we lived on post in military quarters, we were constantly straightening the pictures hanging on our walls.

My official title was “Chief of Military Justice.”  I used to joke that I required a cape to properly fulfill the role.  I was told before arriving at this assignment that APG was a relatively small post (compared to Fort Hood — larger than the State of Delaware).  I would administer justice on the post, occasionally try a court-martial, teach at the Army’s military justice at the Army’s Ordnance School (located on post) and play a lot of golf.  This was largely true — for the first year there.

I supervised a justice shop with two junior prosecutors and 20 to 25 enlisted personnel and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees under my command.  As a result of a strange coincidence, I fell under the direct supervision of the officer who had recruited me from Fordham Law School several years earlier.  This female Major was one of the most organized and efficient people I have ever met.  I learned much from her.  I hope that I have picked up many of her good traits.

In 1996, we began to notice a disturbing trend.  Rumors began circulating of a secret society within the ranks in which male Drill Instructors (DIs) would target and sexually exploit female trainees at this installation.  With the assistance of my best friend on post, the chief investigator of the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) at APG, we interviewed many trainees.  However, none of these females would divulge what was actually going on.  We later learned that they feared the consequences of coming forward, both in terms of punishment for their conduct and, more seriously, retribution by the Drill Sergeants.  Our inability to crack this syndrome earlier in time plagues me to this day.

What finally caused this massive conspiracy to break was revenge.  A female trainee who was involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a DI was refused leave that she had been promised by the Drill.  As a result, she came forward.  Seven other female trainees joined her with allegations.  We collectively referred to them as “The Eight.”

Their accounts of sexual misconduct, intimidation, conspiracy to conceal the wide-spread criminal enterprise and rape shocked even experienced investigators.  It was clear that there were many other women involved, and that this had been going on for a very long time.

Realizing that we were on to something huge, we immediately segregated these women, placing them in a secure facility.  We knew that their supervisory chain (and possibly their entire leadership structure) was corrupted.  Thus, if we left these women unprotected, they would be subject to all sorts of jeopardy, including possible physical harm.

The main subject was a Staff Sergeant named Delmar Simpson.  He was the mastermind behind this scheme.  A born amateur psychologist, Simpson had a knack for assessing females and determining their weaknesses.  He would then exploit these shortcomings in order to obtain sexual favors.  A particular trainee might be deficient in her academic studies or in her abilities during Army Physical Training (PT).  Or, the trainee might have a child back home.  This fact was used by Simpson and other DIs to their advantage by denying the female trainee access to phones or leave to visit children during breaks in training.

At the time, the Drill Instructor was held out to trainees as: boss; father-figure; mentor; disciplinarian; confessor and the model of the Army itself.  Trainees were ordered to take all problems to their Drill, and not to jump over the “chain-of-command.”  Although their commanding officers had “open door policies”, the DIs discouraged aggrieved trainees from taking advantage of this option.

Delmar Simpson

SSG Simpson was over six feet, six inches tall.  DIs wear a large hat that adds another six inches or so to their height.  This headgear (known in the trade as the “brown round”) serves to increase the DI’s appearance of authority.  In the case of a physically imposing male like Simpson, it added to his image as a monster who towered over his prey.  For, if the persuasive tactics described above failed, Delmar Simpson was not above violently attacking his victims and physically raping them.

I was there when CID arrested him.  I read him his rights.  We later prosecuted Simpson for offenses involving more than 25 women.

Like the remora fish who swim around the shark, dozens of other male drills emulated Simpson.  Left to their own devices, it is unlikely that these men would have engaged in these criminal acts to the extent that they did or at all.  However, it is apparent that Simpson schooled these men.  Together, they formed a conspiracy and indoctrinated newer Drill Instructors.

At its peak, these men would identify attractive and/or vulnerable female trainees from the moment that they descended from the bus transporting them to APG.  We also uncovered evidence that male instructors at basic training installations (the step for these trainees before arriving at APG for training in their military occupation) were phoning Simpson and others to give them “scouting reports” on the female talent soon to arrive at APG.

During the early stages, we did not know if officers were involved.  As investigators and prosecutors, we knew of one Lieutenant Colonel battalion commander who expressed outright hostility toward our investigative efforts.  His name was Utzig.  I will never forget him.

Derrick Robertson

During the interviewing of “The Eight” by CID, their company commander, Captain Derrick Robertson, began visiting one of the trainees under the guise of looking out for her health, safety and welfare.  Upon hearing reports of lights burning in this commander’s office late at night, I took CPT Robertson aside and warned him that his behavior was highly suspicious and that he should immediately avoid such conduct for his own good.  I considered Derrick a friend.  He told me, “Don’t worry.  It’s under control.”

The next night, my friend at CID knocked on the door of my quarters and asked me to come along with him and a car full of Military Police or MPs.  CID had uncovered new evidence.  We went to CPT Robertson’s quarters.  There, I read him his rights while he was arrested.  I remember feeling betrayed and numb.

This wasn’t really happening, was it?

— The Major

Coming soon in Part Two: The court-martial trials and my own trials begin.

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