Casualty Sex

This National Guard sexual harassment case gives new meaning to the term "weekend maneuvers"

Randy Setzer pads out of the bedroom in his stocking feet, plops down onto a couch, tucks his camouflaged battle-dress uniform into his boots, zips them up and stands.

Suddenly, he's a soldier again.
"It feels sorta weird putting this on," Setzer says of his fatigues. "It's been a while."

Fifteen months, to be exact.
Until March 1996, Setzer was a major in the Arizona Army National Guard, where he helped supervise a shop of 55 mechanics and technicians who repaired everything from rifles to tanks on the sprawling National Guard base in the shadow of Papago Park on East McDowell Road.

He's a working-class guy. At 40, he is of average height, average build, average appearance and probably average intelligence.

He is soft-spoken, almost to the point of seeming shy. His career has always been hands-on, he says, and he has deliberately eschewed staff-level work as the province of "headquarters weenies."

"That's not reality," he says.
Even in the downsized military, Setzer seemed to be going places. As a major, he was knocking down $62,000 a year. A promotion to lieutenant colonel was on the horizon, and his immediate supervisors rated him highly.

But Setzer's 22-year career came to an abrupt and ignominious close after the Guard accused him of sexually harassing three female subordinates. Setzer appealed his firing, but a hearing officer upheld it.

Setzer is now preparing to take his case to the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. It's the last avenue available to him, and it promises to be a long fight.

He pores over his case and plots strategy in the living room of the tidy two-story home he shares with his wife of 22 years, Liz, a postal-service supervisor, their three children and their dog, Bandit.

Just outside Setzer's back door, flotillas of ducks cruise past on a manmade lake. Inside the house, Christian-themed artwork lines the walls. On the shelf by the big-screen TV in the living room sits a picture Bible, along with a couple of dusty Tom Clancy tomes.

The surroundings are comfortable, but there is something undeniably pitiful about the house now--an air of isolation, as if its walls are the only things shielding Setzer and his family from the accusations leveled against him by the Guard.

Now, Setzer has chosen to surrender what privacy he still has by pleading his case to the court of public opinion. He explains that the Guard and its methods need to be dealt with in the open.

"There's all these young lieutenants coming up, and they need to know that this is the kind of thing that goes on," he says. "They eat their young out there. There's a few old guys at the top, and they don't want anyone challenging them."

Liz ticks off the sacrifices she and her family made during her husband's career, the long periods apart while Randy was away on training, the missed weekends. Both Liz and Randy liken their friends from the Guard to an extension of their family--even the people who became his accusers.

"These people, I mean, we were so good to these people," says Liz. "We had them over to barbecue, all the time." But Liz, whose father was in the Guard and who says she had always respected the institution, never realized how quickly one can go from model soldier to brigand.

She has supported her husband throughout his ordeal, even testified on his behalf, and insists that he hasn't tried to shield her. "I've read that entire case," she says.

Randy says that thanks to Liz's job, the household has remained solvent, but he soon must start looking for another job.

Despite his resolve, Setzer is concerned about the repercussions of going public.

"This isn't going to be something that's going to keep us from looking at people in the face at church, is it?" Randy asks.

That depends on the kinds of people in Setzer's congregation. At first glance, the Guard's case against Setzer seems irrefutable. The allegations are so bizarre and so specific that seemingly no one would ever go to the trouble of inventing them.

But that's exactly what Setzer says happened--that he was undermined from both above and below; that his case was bungled from the outset and that the investigation was not really an investigation at all, but a carefully orchestrated smear job.

There are problems with the case. The hearing officer upheld the firing despite the fact that he discounted the credibility of one of Setzer's two key accusers. The man who convinced the credible witness to come forward was dating the incredible one, and had a motive to seek revenge on Setzer. Other officers would testify that the man who decided to dismiss Setzer was upset about Setzer's rapid rise through the officer ranks.

It's an interesting case, and not just because it might titillate. It points out the problems inherent in sexual harassment cases in which the alleged crime is seldom witnessed and the motives of the accusers are often as questionable as the behavior of the accused.

"These cases are typically messy," says Barbara Mawhiney, the head of Arizona State University's equal opportunity/affirmative action office. "Often, there are only two people who know the truth, and those people may see things 180 degrees apart. Frequently, it boils down to who has credibility."

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