With a single star studded on each shoulder of his immaculate dress blues, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair waited his turn to go through the metal detectors at the federal courthouse at Fort Bragg, just like everyone else.
He smiled broadly at one of the armed military police officers posted at the door and asked: "How many jumps do you have?"
The young soldier, wearing the wings of a paratrooper with the elite 82nd Airborne, stood a little straighter as he confidently answered 28. Sinclair nodded in approval, not mentioning the 217 jumps listed in his own log. After a few more pleasantries, Sinclair put his arm around the man and smiled again as another MP snapped a cellphone photo.
The exchange last summer would be routine for a general building rapport with enlisted troops — but for the fact that Sinclair is believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer ever charged with sexual assault.
Sinclair, 51, has pleaded not guilty to eight criminal charges including forcible sodomy, indecent acts, violating orders and conduct unbecoming an officer. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison at a court-martial scheduled to begin March 3.
While he denies the most serious allegation that he physically forced a female captain under his command to perform oral sex, the married father of two concedes he carried on a three-year extramarital affair with the junior officer. That admission alone will almost certainly end his 28-year Army career, as adultery is a crime under military law.