Shoes of cadets at a commencement ceremony where President Barack Obama gave an address, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., May 24, 2013. Obama welcomed the next generation of officers Friday even as the military confronted a growing number of sexual assault cases, which White House officials said he was likely to address.
The stories of rape and assault in military ranks just keep coming. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been news that sexual attacks on soldiers have risen to 26,000 per year.
Recent charges even include allegations that at least two men who are in charge of investigating such assaults were themselves sexual predators.
For one Wayzata man, retired U.S. Army Major Gen. Robert D. Shadley, the reports bring back difficult memories, and are proof that more has to be done.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Shadley said of last week’s congressional attempts to curb sex abuse in the military. “I’ve seen no real significant change in this.”
That’s because Shadley has seen it all before, up close and personal. He was a key figure in the infamous drill sergeant sex ring that scandalized the Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996.
In that case, about a dozen drill sergeants and noncommissioned officers were involved in something they called “playing the game,” in which they competed to have sex with as many young female trainees as possible. The offenders used everything from coercion using their powerful positions to outright force.
Either way, “there is no such thing as consensual sex between a 19-year-old trainee and a 35-year-old superior drill sergeant,” said Shadley.
In a new self-published book, “The GAMe: Unraveling a Military Sex Scandal,” Shadley talked about how victims of assault hide in the shadows and suffer long-term personal pain because they are afraid to come out in a male-dominated and hierarchical military structure.
Shadley also describes the political pressures and personal agendas that arise when such scandals are uncovered.
Although most of the assaults occurred at Aberdeen before Shadley took charge, he was eventually given a letter of reprimand and transferred because he didn’t immediately discover the problem upon assuming command.
“Guilty as charged,” Shadley said over coffee in St. Louis Park.
But colleagues interviewed by the national press at the time said Shadley acted quickly once he found out, moving to protect women and find the perpetrators. Shadley appealed, and won a removal of the reprimand.
In fact, his swift actions were also criticized by some because of the race of some of the attackers.
Eventually, several soldiers were dishonorably discharged while others were jailed, one for 25 years.
When Shadley initially learned of potential attacks, he took advice from his wife, Ellie: “The first thing you have to do is help these women,” she told him.
Shadley, a confessed Type A personality, documented each meeting and call meticulously in small green notebooks during the crisis.
So, as each revelation about the current sex scandal is revealed in the press, Shadley sees remnants of what he says was the toughest job of his career. That says a lot from a general who saw combat in Vietnam, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Shadley’s book is often sharply critical of military leaders, yet he remains faithful to the institution and the majority of its members.
“There is very seldom one sex perpetrator and one victim,” Shadley said. “So in the best case scenario, there are 13,000 perpetrators. That’s terrible, but it’s 1 percent of the total number of soldiers. That should make it easy to solve.
“In my mind, it’s not about sex, it’s about abuse of power,” Shadley said.
Last week, Congress debated stripping commanding officers of their unilateral authority to change or dismiss convictions. It’s also considering requiring that service members found guilty of sexual offenses be dismissed or dishonorably discharged.
Shadley says he plans to meet with military and Washington officials to discuss solutions in June.
But he also thinks the military has made sexual assaults “a human resources problem” instead of a troop safety issue. “We need the military to put the same effort into protecting women from assault as we do protecting soldiers from improvised explosive device [IED] attacks,” he said.
“Prevention of sexual assault is a force protection issue.”
Since Shadley’s book came out and he started speaking on leadership issues, a couple of victims have sought him out because he validates their pain.
“This problem scars women for many years,” Shadley said. “We need to attack this like we attacked the drug problem in the 1980s; there needs to be zero tolerance.”
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