Cover Story

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

The military's personnel "draw downs" affected just about everyone across the board-including chaplains.

Issue: "Army's new MP's?," May 31, 1997

Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson in May was found guilty on 18 of 19 rape charges. Seven of Sgt. Simpson's colleagues at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., have rape charges pending against them.

A recruit accused of rape at Aberdeen committed suicide in January.

The Sergeant Major of the Army, Gene McKinney, was accused of sexual assault by a subordinate even while he was a member of a Pentagon panel studying sexual assault in the Army. He was forced to resign from the panel.

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The Air Force granted 1st Lt. Kelly Flinn a general discharge for adultery and disobeying orders, crimes that usually require court-martial. The less-than-honorable discharge spares the Pentagon the spectacle of prosecuting the Air Force's first female B-52 pilot.

By now the whole world knows that the armed forces are consumed with sex. Press reports are full of the who, what, when, and where of the Aberdeen scandal and other tales of military sleaze, but they contain next to nothing about the why. Lt. Flinn is celebrated as the nation's first female B-52 pilot; but reporters do not emphasize the news that female soldiers now eat, sleep, and train with men in nearly every venue of military life. Chaplains, even, are sharing barracks with female clergy in training exercises. Original sin dictates that these circumstances will lead to temptation and transgressions.

Pentagon officials are trying to rid themselves of the canker without really getting at its source. The Pentagon's sexual harassment panel began studying the issue soon after the Aberdeen scandal began last November. Congress has since organized a task force to investigate sexual misconduct. Sensitivity training for Army drill sergeants is being increased. Already they receive nine hours of sexual harassment-related training with ethics and proper conduct discussed.

Chaplains increasingly are being brought into the equation. Army officials announced they will add up to 140 new chaplains to its ranks this year. The Army is doing an about-face in order to to avoid another Aberdeen. Chaplains are "a key part of this whole issue and a key part of the solution," admitted Army Chief of Staff Dennis Reimer.

"Aberdeen makes being a chaplain a growth industry," said Center for Military Readiness president Elaine Donnelly.

The expansion is significant because it contradicts a trend in all branches of the service to "draw down" or eliminate personnel. In one year more than 100,000 jobs in the Army were eliminated this way. Active-duty chaplain numbers dropped from 1,576 in 1990 to 1,181 this year. Nearly 200 more posts were expected to be eliminated before the surprise policy change.

The two training battalions at Aberdeen had only one chaplain during the period when the sex scandal unfolded. That chaplain was unavailable to counsel or mediate among parties to the scandal because he was filling a teaching post.

The circumstances, according to another chaplain, Air Force Capt. Maurice Friedman, meant the men and women at Aberdeen were denied "the visible and consistent presence of a chaplain, who stands as a reminder that there is more to life than what we see."

Now the military's clergy are being taken more seriously as integral to a unit's moral health. "An effective, committed chaplain makes a critical difference in the moral climate of a unit," said Lt. Col. Harold Carlson, post deputy chaplain at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. "As a result, anytime his services and his presence are excluded, the risk of decline in that unit's behavior increases."

The Army's chaplains already face a bewildering ministry. Like other service branches, the Army is integrating women in greater numbers into ever more dangerous and specialized assignments. Co-ed training can lead to resentment among male troops as well as both sexual temptation and sexual harassment. It's a tough beat for biblically conservative chaplains who are asked to play moral cop in a compromised setting. Some worry they will be blamed should more scandals ensue in spite of their stepped-up presence.

"There is a weakness at the core of the chaplaincy corps which has not been exposed," said Chaplain (Maj.) James DeCamp, a conservative who pastors a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Oostburg, Wisc., when he is not on Army duty. "When there was a consensus about what the values of Americans were, people understood the legitimacy of the chaplain and biblical faith."

Army chaplains are not immune to the social changes they are expected to mediate. When Maj. DeCamp arrived for reserve duty at Fort Lewis, Wash., last summer, he discovered that ROTC candidates under his unit's instruction would be housed according to a new Army policy, called "barracks gender integration." College-aged men and women shared the same barracks, in this case with men living on the ground floor, women on the second floor, and one latrine shared by all.

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