Ex-soldier fights sexual harassment Woman returns from Persian Gulf with nightmares of a private war

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SAPELLO, N.M. -- When Army reservist Jacqueline Ortiz returned from the Persian Gulf, her private war began.

Safe at home, surrounded by family, she confronted the demons of sleep: not Saddam Hussein's feared Republican Guards, nor clouds of poison gas wafting over Kuwait, but the Army sergeant she says sodomized her during the United States' war with Iraq. She wanted justice -- criminal charges brought against the noncommissioned officer -- and she took on the Army to get it.

"How could somebody in my chain of command violate everything that I have ever lived for?" says Ms. Ortiz, 29, seated at the kitchen table of her parents' modest home in this tiny ranching community. "How could every right that I was fighting for in Saudi Arabia be taken away from me? When I became a victim, I didn't have any rights at all."

In the coming weeks, this soldier's personal nightmare will be played out in a military courtroom in Texas, thousands of miles from the remote desert camp where it began.

The trial of 1st Sgt. David J. Martinez, who pleaded not guilty to charges of sodomy, indecent assault, and filing false statements, will make very public what has been a very private military problem: sexual abuse.

No matter what the outcome of the trial, Ms. Ortiz's case -- which required a tortuous effort even to be heard -- symbolizes an all-too-frequent occurrence within the military, veterans and women's advocacy groups say.

Of at least 31 reports of sexual assault or rape during Desert Storm, Jackie Ortiz's case is among just a handful that have reached a court-martial.

There is evidence to suggest that her charges are not unusual among the growing ranks of women in the military. One 1989 study found that 11 percent of Army men and women said they had been sexually assaulted or raped by a fellow service member in that year alone.

And sexual harassment of women poses even greater problems for the armed forces: A 1990 Department of Defense study of more than 20,000 military personnel found that nearly two out of three women were sexually harassed in the preceding year.

When Ms. Ortiz told her Desert Storm superiors that she had been sexually assaulted, she took a step many military women are afraid to take: She reported the alleged attack. Despite her girlish looks -- 5 feet tall with waist-length chestnut hair -- Ms. Ortiz didn't frighten easily.

Raised on a 200-acre ranch in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, she was driving a tractor before she entered the first grade. A single mother, Ms. Ortiz joined the Army reserves for the chance to go to college.

The only woman in her unit and a mechanic with skills sharp enough to put her in charge of the company's trucks and jeeps, Ms. Ortiz was a soldier who would make a commanding officer proud. Bright, hard-working, toughing it out in the field like all the rest, she was "a nonproblem," in the words of one supervisor.

When the call came for Operation Desert Shield, says Ms. Ortiz: "I wanted to go. Because I believe in the Constitution of the United States. I believe in every word it says."

If she misjudged anyone, it was a fellow reservist, the company first sergeant, who she says routinely bypassed the chain of command to speak to her and allegedly told a tearful Ms. Ortiz, as the unit was leaving for Saudi Arabia, "I just want you to know I'm here for you, physically or mentally or however you need to be taken care of."

If she was naive about anything, it was probably about the consequences of accusing a superior officer of sexual assault in the middle of war.

"Women join the military for many reasons -- to serve their country, to learn a skill, and to prepare for a productive future," former Sen. Alan Cranston observed during Senate hearings last year on sexual harassment in the military. "It is tragic that, instead, so many have experiences during their service that unfairly leave them hurt, distressed, psychologically impaired and in need of assistance," said the Democrat from California.

Ms. Ortiz was sitting in the Capitol Hill audience that day, waiting to testify, to give vivid reality to the senator's words.

Asked to sergeant's tent

The alleged assault occurred Jan. 19, 1991, within days of the start of the air war.

Court records show that Ms. Ortiz and Sergeant Martinez agree that he called her to his tent on the morning in question to #F discuss sleeping arrangements for women in the unit.

Leaving her work in the motor pool, Ms. Ortiz gathered on her gear -- helmet, flak jacket, M-16 rifle, gas mask -- and crossed the camp to Sergeant Martinez's tent. What happened then is in dispute. She says as she was leaving the tent, Sergeant Martinez pushed her to the floor, held her head and sodomized her.

Sergeant Martinez's lawyer would not permit him to be interviewed, but the sergeant's account of what happened has varied, according to court documents.

At various times he has said nothing happened at all, that he had rebuffed an advance by Ms. Ortiz herself, that the oral sex was consensual, and that the two had had a previous relationship. At one point, he even confessed but later said he was pressured to do so.

Leaving the tent stunned and shaken, Ms. Ortiz reported the attack to superiors within days. What followed was 2 1/2 months of a physical and emotional "hell" in which Ms. Ortiz says she was transferred from her company, given unduly long guard shifts, and ostracized by other women soldiers who accused her of "setting up" her attacker. If she wasn't crying, she was throwing up.

At night, she ground her teeth so hard she developed stinging headaches. In the mornings, she gagged just putting a toothbrush into her mouth.

While investigating her complaint, Ms. Ortiz says some Army officials made her feel like she was at fault: She recalls one military investigator telling her, "Change your story, and all this will stop."

The complications of war exacerbated her plight -- the counseling and medical care Ms. Ortiz needed was several hours drive from the camp. But the handling of Ms. Ortiz's complaint, even in the midst of a war zone, appears symptomatic of a military fighting man's culture in which noncombat female soldiers are outranked in importance.

Denying military women the same career opportunities as men reduces them to the rank of second-class citizens, say women veterans and advocates.

And "that breeds an atmosphere in which sexual harassment and assault are more tolerated," says Nancy Duff Campbell, who co-wrote a 1992 National Women's Law Center study on sexual harassment in the military.

There are certain well-known signposts of male dominance in the military culture. Derogatory comments about women are part of the vernacular. Women who report harassment are often accused of "wimping out." Even when ordered by Congress to integrate women into air combat positions, the military culture has been slow to respond.

A Pentagon spokesman maintains that there are policies in place to deal with sexual abuse of women, adding that the Department of Defense policy is that : "Sexual harassment won't be tolerated."

At a time when President Clinton's call to lift the ban on gays in the military has aroused "tremendous passion" among military men over "having to confront unwanted overtures," says military history professor Linda Grant De Pauw, "What is being feared and resented so much is what military women have to put up with all the time."

Sexual abuse of servicewomen "is a subject that inside the military there has been no desire to study," says Ms. De Pauw, of the Minerva Center, a Maryland-based education foundation on military women. "There is a disinclination to look at ugly stuff."

For Jacqueline Ortiz, the ugliness of war could not be extricated from her personal pain.

Barred at the desert camp from talking to her one close friend, a former boyfriend who inadvertently stuck his head into the sergeant's tent and allegedly witnessed the sexual assault, Ms. Ortiz was desperate. After Army investigators interrogated her in March of 1991 at the main military compound in Saudi Arabia, she demanded to see a doctor.

Distraught, Ms. Ortiz could barely talk about the attack. A psychiatrist said she was suffering from post traumatic stress and ordered her airlifted to a hospital in Germany.

After a short stay there and unable to get a quick flight out, Ms. Ortiz -- 20 pounds thinner, her gear lost in transit -- paid her own way home.

Days after celebrating Easter 1991 with her family, Ms. Ortiz began her fight.

Her grandmother warned: "They're going to drag you through the mud."

But Ms. Ortiz pushed her case with military officials and investigators, congressmen and senators. Throughout the summer of 1991, she sought help from lawyers, New Mexico women's organizations, a veteran's group.

In some ways, the Army itself drove her.

In November, she learned the outcome of the sexual assault report she filed in Saudi Arabia. Using his word against hers, military investigators called the sexual encounter between Ms. Ortiz and Sergeant Martinez "consensual."

Both soldiers received letters of reprimand.

Outraged, Ms. Ortiz took her case public.

Army reopens the case

In late November 1991, surrounded by family and friends, Ms. Ortiz stood up at a town meeting held by her local congressman, described her living "hell" and asked for "justice."

Rep. Bill Richardson, a Democrat from New Mexico, inquired about the Army's handling of the Ortiz case and, in February of last year, Army investigators reopened the case.

After failing a polygraph last April, Sergeant Martinez confessed to the crime. He said he lied about a relationship with Ms. Ortiz to "beef up" his story, court documents show.

Last July 1, Sergeant Martinez, an Albuquerque construction foreman and father of three, was charged with sodomy, assault and filing false reports.

Described by superiors as honest, a leader and "always concerned" about his soldiers, Sergeant Martinez pleaded not guilty to the charges. He was returned to active duty to await trial.

"He continues to assert his innocence," says Richard Utman Jr., the sergeant's lawyer who refused to discuss the facts of the case. "It has affected him very deeply, very harshly, himself and his family. Emotionally, it's been a nightmare."

The nightmares haven't stopped for Jacqueline Ortiz.

And her quest for justice has taken its toll on her family. Her 9-year-old son has learned in counseling how to politely tell curious classmates "to mind their own business." A 2-year-old niece has mimicked the gagging sounds Ms. Ortiz makes when she brushes her teeth.

Last fall, Ms. Ortiz, who was honorably discharged last year, attended a Bible college in Arizona: "For so long I felt so dirty. I had to learn to cope with my own feelings."

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