Drill sergeant, company commander failed to report sexual assault allegations at Fort Jackson
The State (Columbia, S.C.)
COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the wake of a Fort Jackson drill sergeant’s sexual assault charges, investigators have determined that a second drill sergeant had threatened one of the victims after she came forward and that a company commander had failed to report the accusations to military police.
Last week, The State newspaper reported one victim’s complaints about an institutional failure in how drill sergeants and officers responded when she stepped forward to say she had been attacked. Now, Fort Jackson officials say they may reopen an investigation into how the leaders of F Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment reacted.
“We want to do this right,” said Col. Kenneth Royalty, Fort Jackson’s chief of staff. “If a soldier brings up a new allegation tomorrow, we will review it.”
Six Army officials answered questions about the case Wednesday after Fort Jackson did not respond last week to inquiries from The State about the investigation and reported intimidation.
Luis Corral, a former drill sergeant, was sentenced last week to five years in prison, busted in rank to private from sergeant first class and forfeited his $2,886 monthly salary. He was convicted by a military jury on one count of forcible sodomy, one count of abusive sexual contact, two counts of indecent conduct, one count of assault, one count of adultery, five counts of maltreatment, and five counts of failure to follow a lawful order, said Col. Steven Weir, Fort Jackson’s staff judge advocate.
Corral assaulted or harassed five female recruits between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14 while he was their drill sergeant, Weir said. Corral enlisted in 2004 and had been a drill sergeant since 2010.
Corral was accused of sexually assaulting two recruits at one time, including having at least one of them perform a sex act on him. He forced a third recruit to kiss him while he groped her. And he used abusive and sexually suggestive language toward the five recruits, Weir said.
One of the victims, Pfc. Natasha Woodruff, agreed after the court-martial to speak openly about the sexual assaults and the failure of those in charge to properly report them. While The State newspaper typically does not report the names of sexual assault victims, Woodruff agreed to have her name published in hopes her story would help prevent similar assaults of future recruits.
“First of all, our thoughts are with the victims and their families,” said Col. David L. Wilcox, who is chief of staff of the Army’s Office of Initial Military Training, which oversees all training posts. “We take this very seriously. Sexual assault eats away at unit cohesion. It eats away at unit readiness. I am one who is committed to making sure this is stamped out. It is not tolerated whether it’s in basic training or any other unit.”
Fort Jackson, which is the Army’s largest training center, hosts 60 percent of all female recruits. That amounts to about 12,000 female recruits a year, Royalty said. Every soldier – from recruit to upper-echelon commanders – receives extensive training on how to report and respond to sexual assault and harassment, he said.
Commanders take multiple steps to prevent sexual assault and other inappropriate relationships between drill sergeants and recruits, he said. Those measures include sexual harassment training within 48 hours of arriving on post, assigning same-sex battle buddies who rarely are apart, separate sleeping areas that are electronically monitored, and a rule that forbids any male drill sergeant from entering the female recruits’ sleeping area without a female drill sergeant as an escort.
Drill sergeants also undergo an anonymous peer review after each training cycle in which everyone is given an opportunity to report wrongdoings, Royalty said. And Brig. Gen. Bryan T. Roberts, the commanding general, leads a monthly sexual assault review board.
“We go through procedures, and we have systems in place to catch these guys,” Royalty said.
Still, Corral managed to assault five recruits, and at least two other people in the company failed to follow Army policy on reporting the assaults.
Woodruff reported her attack to another drill sergeant on Jan. 14. But Fort Jackson’s Criminal Investigation Division did not get called until Jan. 16, when Woodruff told the battalion sergeant major what had happened, Weir said.
Woodruff said that during those two days other drill sergeants used intimidation to try to convince her to rescind her accusations. She said one drill sergeant threatened her and a first sergeant tried to talk her out of making the allegations. She said she also was denied phone privileges.
The investigation did uncover evidence of intimidation. But it did not find evidence of a cover-up, Weir said.
The female drill sergeant who threatened Woodruff was given an official reprimand but was allowed to continue as a drill sergeant, said Michael Pond, a Fort Jackson public affairs officer.
“The Chain of Command believed she was manipulated by the accused and was otherwise a good performer,” Pond wrote in an email.
The captain in charge of F Company erred when he launched a commander’s inquiry to determine if Woodruff’s allegations were legitimate, Royalty said. Instead, he should have called military police as soon as he heard about the assault.
“He made a mistake,” Royalty said.
That captain was counseled, meaning he underwent an evaluation from a higher officer.
Higher-ups at Fort Jackson finally learned about the assaults when the battalion’s command sergeant major held an open meeting with recruits. These meetings are routine and allow recruits a chance to voice concerns to a senior enlisted soldier without fearing repercussions from drill sergeants.
That’s when Woodruff came forward with her report of Corral’s attack. And she told the sergeant major that other women may have been victims, too.
As a result, every female recruit in the unit was interviewed, and that led to four more victims coming forward, Weir said.
Today, four of Corral’s victims remain in the Army, including Woodruff. She is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., where she analyzes high tech maps of battlefields. One recruit chose not to finish basic training, Royalty said.
Woodruff told the newspaper Wednesday that she was pleased when Fort Jackson officials told her earlier this week they planned to reopen their investigation.
“I’m doing this so other privates don’t have to go through what I did,” she said. “No one should be discouraged from reporting something.”
When asked if Woodruff’s and the others soldiers’ military careers might be jeopardized by their speaking out, Royalty replied, “No. We support the soldiers. We support what is right.
“We’re not going to make excuses for Pvt. Corral’s actions. We don’t tolerate that.”