He was the high school football star from small-town South Carolina who joined the Army and learned to repair tanks. He became a strapping soldier whose crisply pressed uniform reflected ambition and a no-nonsense attitude -- traits he parlayed into a job as a drill sergeant.
Now, 12 years into a military career that has included assignments in Germany, Korea and Somalia, Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson is the human ground zero of the unfolding Army sexual misconduct scandal. He faces a chilling array of charges, including nine alleged rapes of three women and counts of sodomy, assault, threats and fraternization. In all, the charges involve eight female recruits under his care at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Simpson, 31, is a father of two, married to an active-duty Army woman posted in Virginia, and his military record includes 19 awards and decorations. His outgoing manner and professional bearing have impressed many colleagues.
But his past, now certain to be scrutinized by investigators, also includes accusations of favoritism toward female subordinates, a troubled relationship with the mother of his daughter, and six months' probation for fleeing Texas police.
Since the Army announced Nov. 7 its probe of alleged misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground, investigators have identified 13 female soldiers who say they were raped, as well as 21 others making lesser allegations ranging from indecent assault to fraternization, a memo obtained by The Sun says.
The Army, which has expanded its investigation to other bases, has said 20 male Aberdeen drill sergeants and other soldiers are under investigation, including three who face courts-martial. Of those three, only Simpson is incarcerated, sitting in the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., his perfectly creased uniform exchanged for a prison jumpsuit.
Simpson's defenders question whether the charges result from the Army's rush to show it is serious about confronting a long-simmering problem of sexual abuse in the ranks. They emphasize that no accusation has been proven.
"Some people in Washington have forgotten about something called a trial," says his lawyer, Capt. Edward W. Brady. "We don't believe that playing it on TV and the newspapers is how it's done."
Drill Sgt. Phillip Cook finds it hard to believe that the man he admires stands accused of such acts. To Cook, stationed at Aberdeen for the past 14 months, the 6-foot-4-inch Simpson is the friend he jokingly calls "Tiny."
"He was always taking care of his soldiers," says Cook. "I never saw him do anything out of line.
"I'm not saying he didn't have sex with the women. I'm just saying I don't think it was rape."
Cook had the grim duty of driving his friend to Quantico -- a trip on which Simpson spoke little about the charges, preferring to sleep. "That's like locking up your brother or your sister," says Cook, who has been in the Army 12 years.
'Like a father'
A 20-year-old female soldier who lived in the same barracks as Simpson for several months said he was always professional. Once, she recalls, as she was heading to "The Strip," the collection of bars and motels that line U.S. 40, he warned her not to run afoul of Army rules banning social or sexual relationships with trainees.
"He was like a father to me," she says. "He never made any advances, never."
But another trainee, also 20, found Simpson intimidating, calling her to him at lunch and berating her for laughing and chatting with friends. Her roommate found Simpson attractive and regularly visited him -- behavior that led to gossip about improper relationships, says the woman, who asked not to be named.
"It was one big soap opera there," the trainee says of her experience at the Edgewood campus of the proving ground. "Nothing but who was sleeping with who, sexual harassment and all that." Trainees and their superiors regularly slipped away to a walkway along the Gunpowder River to drink, kiss or have sex, she adds.
'An outstanding young man'
Simpson grew up in the hamlet of Richburg, S.C., the third of five children of O'Neal Simpson, a textile worker who died when Delmar was 7, and Edna Simpson, a cook and seamstress.
Relatives and teachers remember Delmar as a cheerful young man who distinguished himself in athletics, a defensive lineman who led the Lewisville Lions football team to a county high school championship. He also fathered a boy, who is now 14 and lives with Simpson's mother.
"He was an outstanding young man, polite, respectful," recalls Jimmy Wallace, who coached Simpson in football. "I don't ever remember him getting in trouble. Very well-mannered young man -- always 'yes, sir, no, sir.' "
After graduating from Lewisville High in 1983, Simpson enlisted and trained in artillery repair at Aberdeen before shipping out for Germany. In 1988, he was transferred to Fort Hood, Texas, where he eventually was promoted to a supervisory role, making platoon sergeant in the 602nd Maintenance Company in 1992.
"He was a hard worker, but I didn't like the way he did some things," recalls Marvin L. Holmes, 45, who was first sergeant of the company.
Some soldiers accused Simpson of giving favorable treatment -- time off or cushy jobs -- to female members of the platoon, says Holmes, who retired from the military last year. Simpson was removed as platoon sergeant, where he supervised more than 70 soldiers, and reassigned as a squad sergeant, responsible for about a dozen soldiers, Holmes says.
Holmes says the move came amid a reorganization, after sexual harassment complaints that brought in more experienced sergeants to lead platoons. Simpson was not accused of harassment, Holmes says, but the favoritism complaints, along with personal problems that seemed to dog Simpson, were factors in the reassignment.
Those personal problems revolved around a strained relationship and custody fight with a female soldier who was the mother of Simpson's daughter, now 4, says Holmes. He once asked an officer to escort Simpson to the off-base home the couple shared so Simpson could retrieve his belongings.
The woman, a soldier now on duty in South Korea, declined to comment.
Also while at Fort Hood, Simpson received six months' probation after being charged with fleeing the Texas Highway Patrol, court records show. Details were not included in court files.
In early 1995, after attending Drill Sergeant School at Fort Benning, Ga., and passing the required examination on the second try, Simpson was transferred to Aberdeen. There, he helped train young soldiers, fresh out of basic training, at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School.
His record there was spotless, officials say, until an incident involving a female recruit in January.
In a van full of recruits riding from Aberdeen to the Edgewood campus, Simpson ordered a young soldier to put her hat on. She VTC refused, and Simpson jabbed her in the shoulder with his finger, a violation of the prohibition on touching trainees, says Lt. Col. Martin T. Utzig, commander of the 143rd Ordnance Battalion.
Utzig adds that there were conflicting accounts of what happened. He issued a written reprimand and transferred Simpson, who acknowledged that he was at fault, from Bravo to Alpha Company.
"I told him that behavior was inappropriate. He understood and acknowledged it," Utzig says.
David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland College Park, calls the incident a warning sign.
"Somebody missed the wake-up call there," he says. "If you have a zero tolerance policy, then the first time you see a problem you don't say, 'OK, we will move this person to another company,' you say, 'OK, this is the wrong person for this job.' "
In early September, allegations of sexual misconduct against Simpson began to accumulate, and he was jailed on Sept. 12.
Apart from one incident last year, the alleged crimes all took place between July 15 and Sept. 4. In a single day, Aug. 1, Simpson is accused of raping one private and forcing another to perform oral sex. He is accused of raping one trainee five times in separate attacks between July 15 and Aug. 21.
In some cases, charging documents say, he threatened his victims. Simpson allegedly told one recruit that if she reported that they'd had sex, "I'll kill you." To another, he allegedly said he would "knock your teeth out and get away with it."
'They get cocky'
Capt. Cliff Faulkner, who as commander of Bravo Company knew Simpson well, says he saw the drill sergeant as athletic and motivated. But the nearly absolute power that military trainers have over trainees can give them a dangerous sense that they are untouchable, he adds.
"I feel in some cases they get cocky. Maybe they've gotten away with things for so long, the drill sergeants think they're indestructible."
Pub Date: 11/29/96