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Retired APG general: The players change, the 'GAM' remains the same

Sixteen years ago, Robert Shadley, then a major general in the Army, uncovered disturbing news from an important Army training facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Drill sergeants and other instructors were regularly using their power to get sexual favors from young female trainees, or sometimes even assaulting or raping them.

After spending two years investigating sex assaults at APG, Shadley says not much has changed in the Army a decade and a half later.

In his new book, "The GAMe: Unraveling a Military Sex Scandal," released the spring by Beaver's Pond Press, the former general points out the U.S. Department of Defense's latest estimates show that at least 18,000 service members are sexually assaulted each year, and possibly as many as 26,000.

"We can see that the problem has not abated," Shadley said on Wednesday, speaking by phone from his home in Wayzata, Minn.

Before retiring from the military in 2000, Shadley led a crisis team in 1996 and 1997 at APG.

During that period, he interviewed every young woman who came into the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School, then based at the Harford County installation, and "found out who the bad folks were" in the leadership positions. (The school has since been relocated to Fort Lee, Va., as part of BRAC.)

Shadley noticed a problem in January 1996, when young trainees were seen going into downtown Aberdeen, renting a room at a hotel, drinking and ultimately having sex with each other.

The Army decided to move drill sergeants into the barracks to supervise the trainees at night.

"That was like putting the fox in the hen house," Shadley said.

With that, Shadley began discovering what participants called "the GAM," or "game a la military," in which drill sergeants had a contest to see who could sleep with the most trainees.

"They felt they were pretty good at picking out the young women who would sleep with them," he said, noting that he also found 51 percent of the women who came into the Army exhibited several criteria for being victims of sex abuse as children.

Despite the appearance of some of the relationships being mutual, Shadley said there is nothing consensual about a 19-year-old woman having sex with a 35-year-old drill sergeant.

"The sexual assaults are not about the sex. It's all about the abuse of power," Shadley said.

"You have the propensity of some men, and women, to do that kind of thing, and then you put them in an organization that has a hierarchical structure that talks about the importance of following the chain of command," he said. "It's just like pouring gasoline onto a fire."

The "GAM" went far beyond APG, Shadley found, in what ultimately became a national news story at the time.

Sex abuse in the military continues to make headlines. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that a male sergeant at West Point allegedly videotaped more than a dozen female cadets in secret, sometimes while they were showering.

The military "sex scandal" follows a similar pattern to other prominent cases of institutionalized sex abuse, Shadley said, such as those at Penn State and in the Roman Catholic Church, instances where those in authority used their positions to abuse younger people who are under their command or direction.

While the overwhelming majority of those working in institutions like the Army are not abusers, "it just shows you what a small percentage of people can do in an organization to paint the whole organization as bad," he said. "Since it's such a relatively small number overall in the military, we want to be able to find who these people are and get them out of the military to keep them from doing these sexual assaults."

Nevertheless, Shadley also said he believes the problem affects how the military functions, not just its image.

He called sex assault a force protection issue, not "a women's issue."

"It's up to everyone to set and enforce the highest standards in an organization," Shadley said.

The same person who is worried about explosive devices on the battlefield is the one the military should be worried about protecting during training, he said.

"It's everyone's right to be able to come to work and do the best job in the best environment," he said.

Shadley said he is still passionate about the issue of sexual assault in the military, and a portion of the proceeds from his book will go to non-profit organizations helping assault victims.

The challenge is to educate trainees as well as the leaders, he said, especially if social mores make "the GAM" seem less of a big deal, Shadley said.

Some trainees, for example, were more than happy to sleep with drill sergeants in exchange for getting out of morning training.

"What we need to do, and we are trying, is to let the young people coming into the military know that that is not acceptable behavior," he said. "It's educating people not to become victims and it's educating people not to become perpetrators."

Because of the timeliness of the subject, Shadley's book has drawn good reviews because of the course he and his subordinates followed to identify root causes of the scandal at APG and deal with perpetrators.

At the time, sex scandal at APG and one a few years earlier involving Navy aviators, called Tailhook, were the most public revelations of sexual transgressions within the military. Both drew the first widespread attention to the sexual abuse problems in the military.

"The GAMe: Unraveling a Military Sex Scandal" is available in hardcover through http://www.beaverspondpress.com and is also available at amazon.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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