Aberdeen: Part Three

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 Three

Imbalance of power was the legal theory upon which we hung our hat during the courts-martial.  We realized early on that it was entirely possible that military juries might find that there was some degree of consent on the part of the females.  Indeed, the defendants’ cases would center around the theory that manipulative females had used sex to gain favors with their superiors.

We decided to go “off road.”  In instances involving statutory rape between an adult and a minor, it doesn’t matter if the minor says “yes.”  Under the law, a minor lacks the legal capacity to issue such consent.

We sought imposition of a similar doctrine in these cases: in light of the superior/subordinate relationship within the context of the Army’s total control training environment, the female trainees lacked capacity to consent to sex with the male Drill Instructors.  We called this theory constructive force.

We did not know if this would work.  The military judges allowed us to present this theory to the juries, called panels.  The panels agreed and convicted the soldiers on this theory.

Delmar Simpson was found guilty of 18 counts of rape against six female trainees, as well as 29 other offenses.  He was sentenced to 25 years in military prison.  He is still there today.

My friend and colleague, CPT Dave Thomas, was the lead trial counsel on this court-martial which lasted several weeks.  Dave proved what we knew all along: he is a great trial attorney.

CPT Robertson pled guilty and was stripped of his officer rank.  He was sentenced to four months in military prison.  After serving his sentence, Derrick was dismissed from the service.

Most of the other accuseds either pled guilty and were sentenced, or were convicted and sentenced.

In the wake of the convictions, many of the officers in charge at APG were relieved of command or received career-ending reprimands.

The Army’s investigation also revealed instances of sexual misconduct at other training installations, such as Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.  However, none of allegations at the other posts involved elaborate and well-organized criminal activity to the extent perpetrated at Aberdeen.

I carry mine every day.

The Army conducted a wide-ranging study into what factors led to the Aberdeen Scandal.  In the end, one of the findings was that soldiers and their leaders had lost sight of the seven core Army values.  All soldiers were issued special “dog tags” reminding them of these values.  I still have mine.

The Army changed the structure of its training environment in an effort to ensure that a tragedy of this sort does not occur again.  The Army also imposed strict rules banning sexual relations between leaders and those under their command or supervision.

As for me, I decided that I had had enough.  The experience had been overwhelming.  I was ready to move on.  Running Girl and I began to look for a place to settle down and raise our family.  We decided upon Buffalo.

Unfortunately, my mentor (the Major who had recruited me) treated my decision to leave active duty as a betrayal.  Our relationship was forever altered.  I was saddened to learn that her sense of loyalty was overcome by her self-importance and her need to judge me harshly.  Despite my subsequent attempt to repair the relationship, we are no longer in contact.  After Aberdeen, she rose to many key positions in the Army and within the Department of Defense.  I wish her well.

After Aberdeen, I left active duty and moved into civilian life.  In time, I found a great Army Reserve job: teaching military justice at local colleges and universities to ROTC students.

In 2000, I was promoted to “The Major.”  In 2002, after ten years of service, I decided to get out.  I resigned my commission.  I have never regretted my decision.

I have not previously written about Aberdeen.  I’ve spoken about my experiences publicly only one time.  I was invited by my friend, the late Major Brian Delaplane (who had served as a company commander while we were both at APG) to address students at St. Bonaventure University.  It was a rewarding and somewhat cathartic experience.

The Aberdeen Scandal gave me much perspective on life.  I realized that I did not want to remain on active duty for my entire career — it would be too hard on my family.  Running Girl would not have become the fantastic teacher that she is today.

My time in the spotlight during the scandal was intimidating.  However, I learned something about the media and how to handle it.  I used this knowledge to my advantage when Running Girl and Island Boy were stranded in Haiti following the January 12, 2o1o earthquake events.  At that time, I set the ground rules and the media had no choice but to obey.  I was their access to the story.  I tightly controlled the situation.

Most importantly, I learned from the mistakes made by the leadership at APG — both those who committed crimes and the leadership who permitted the climate where it took place.

When I think back to my two years at that installation, I recall a poster that CPT Delaplane had hanging above his desk.  It was a scene from The Green Berets depicting John Wayne in full battle dress.  Below the photo was the following caption:

Life is hard.  It’s harder if you’re stupid.

— The Major

Read Aberdeen: Part One.

Read Aberdeen: Part Two.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kristie on November 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Fascinating, Major. I didn’t have any idea who you were when I met you and your gorgeous fam at the Haiti Reunion. And, wow, I had no idea what kind of work you do (and did). I’m the daughter of a now-retired career USMC officer (20+ years), by the way. Best to you!
    Kristie (manmi to three Haitian sensations)


  2. Posted by Mollie on December 30, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Not sure if you remember me, I am Brian’s step-daughter. I found your blog when I googled his name. I guess I knew most of that story but not all, I must say, very well written. If time ever permits please contact me at mollie_banach@msn.com


  3. Posted by David Michael Phillips on May 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Indeed it did change the entire Army. I was a Staff Sergeant when this came in to the public eye and married to a female soldier. ( We are still married today ). It was a massive blight on the NCO Corps. I used the accused as examples of mis-conduct while mentoring my junior NCO’ s. Great work on the prosecution and conviction (s). Master Sergeant (R) David M. Phillips.


  4. Posted by DJ on April 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    I randomly stumbled upon this post while relaying this story to a coworker. I was at APG during this event and was indirectly involved in an incident. We began to search online as I struggled to remember names, course of events etc. Your account is so accurate and touches upon the feelings we, as victims and witnesses were feeling. The media’s account of the situation has stayed with me all these years. I specifically remember going back to my hometown, seeing Capt. Robertson’s interview in his uniform when I knew he had been discharged was infuriating. Here he was on national television, telling “his side of the story”-lying to the public, while those involved were discouraged from such activities.
    How many can say they personally have been involved in a situation distorted by the media? I know now that the “facts” presented by every outlet should be viewed with skepticism. It is somewhat comforting to hear how disturbed you were by this as well. Watching events unfold at home, I saw the distortion by the media as further betrayal by the Army. Just another measure to cover up the events for what they truly were.
    Thank you for posting this account, it is refreshing to revisit this event in a personal, articulate forum.


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