Secretary of the Army John McHugh speaks during the 6th Annual I. A.M. Strong Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention Summit held on Joint Base Andrews, Camp Springs, Md, June 11, 2013. The SHARP program is the Army's principal program to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assaults. The goal is to eliminate incidents of sexual harassment and assault through a comprehensive program that centers on awareness and prevention, training and education, reporting options, timely responses, and victim support services and accountability. The purpose of the summit is to provide forums for commanders to learn best practices from each other, as well as engage the commanders in an open discussion about the strategic future direction of the SHARP Program and how to meet Army goals. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. John G. Martinez)

First of all, I should do some housekeeping. I apologize for running late. I see a lot of familiar faces, so if you're familiar with paces and rhythms, I guess by Pentagon time we're not doing too badly, but we'll try to get you back on schedule. The other thing I want to do is thank the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and my colleague, Secretary Mike Donley, for lending us this palatial facility. Now that you've seen how the other half lives, we hope you stick with the Army, but we do appreciate the joint aspect of this.

Of course, most importantly, I want to thank you. I deeply appreciate this chance to share some time with you and I appreciate even more the tremendous effort that each of you has put forth these past few days to better help us to tackle what I know we all agree is an extraordinarily painful, and extraordinarily important scourge in our ranks.

During these sessions, you've heard from victims, you've heard from advocates, and I know each of them brought their own very personal perspective on this problem. But we have to remember that when it comes to perspectives, as an Army, we have a singular purpose: to reduce and to eliminate sexual assault and harassment from across our ranks.

Now, I'll be the first to state the obvious: this is no easy task; it's darn hard work. But this much we know: Yours, Ours, is an organization that's built on values: Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage. Sexual abuse and sexual assault in all their forms are abhorrent to each and every one of those values; and if we are to live by and uphold those honored standards, it is our duty and it's our responsibility to act, and to do more, each and every day.

Just a few days ago I had the opportunity, along with Secretary Hagel, to attend this year's commencement ceremonies at West Point. And I see the Supe[rintendent] here , although I've lost track of him, there he is, [Lieutenant General] Dave Huntoon. Dave, thank you to you and your bride for your hospitality. Along with the Superintendent and along with the graduating cadets, I heard the Secretary when he, I think very correctly, stated as he put it, "sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military are a profound betrayal of sacred oaths and sacred trusts. This scourge," he said, "must be stamped out."

And as I listened to the Secretary's words that morning, I thought of the parents of those young cadets - mothers and fathers who had entrusted us with their sons and daughters - and the tremendous responsibility that we all hold to be worthy of their sacrifice, to be worthy of their support. And I thought, you know, in those parents' hearts and minds today, there's probably an unspoken fear that many of them were feeling. It wasn't just that day; an unspoken fear that had undoubtedly been growing over the course of the last several weeks and months.

I'm not speaking about the fear a parent understandably has when their child may be sent into harm's way. The fact is, everyone in the audience that morning came to the Academy at a time with our nation at war. Indeed, they came of age with our nation at war. And it's likely that most if not all of those parents had already come to uneasy terms with the inherent danger of their child's' chosen profession. I'm really talking about another fear. And it's a fear that no family member or Soldier should ever face -- the fear of harm coming at the hands of another Soldier. The fear that their daughter or their son could be sexually assaulted by a comrade-in-arms.

And I thought about what could possibly be said to them to ease that fear, to let them know that we are going to do all that we possibly can to keep their children -- our warriors -- safe from all enemies, foreign and domestic, even when -- especially when -- that enemy is one of our own.

Several weeks ago, I had the chance speak to a conference of newly appointed Brigadier Generals attending the Army Senior Leader Development program. I spoke about this occasion during recent testimony I provided to Congress. That morning, I told all those new General Officers that no matter what they may do, no matter what they may achieve, no matter what battles they help win or ribbons they may wear, no matter how far or how far they may rise, if they failed to act, if they failed to intervene, if they failed to lead on this issue, they will have failed the Army. More importantly, they will have failed the very Soldiers they were expected to nurture, to protect. And that message is the one we must continue to convey across our entire force -- from our newest recruits to our most seasoned leaders.

Now, sadly, undeniably, this is not the first time we've faced the sort of issue that challenges the health, well-being and readiness of our Army. Suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, PTSD and mental health similarly challenge our resolve. Some issues before us are unique to the Army and our military -- the harrowing stresses of combat, the traumatic wounds of war, both those we can see as well as those can't. But some of those challenges plague us as a society and as a nation as a whole. And we sometimes lose sight of really how big this Army is. There are some 1.1 million Soldiers -- active duty, guard and reserve -- and another 330,000 or so civilians. And when you take that combined population, it's larger than 11 states in this nation, and if the Army were a city, we'd be the nation's sixth largest. And many of the problems we face are common to a population that is that large, are common to virtually every city and every state in this union. And even in the area of sexual assault, we have statistically had fewer such crimes than have occurred in similar sized populations. But I want to be clear: Not being not as bad as some others simply isn't good enough. Not by a long shot.

We are an Army of American citizens. And as the Army, we expect -- we demand -- character within our ranks. And that's character that we demand not to say we're better than the nation and the people that we serve, but, rather we strive to lead by our example. And if we are true to our convictions, we have to be honest about our performance. As I stand here before you today, we have failed.

That's not to say we're without hope. That's not to say we've made no progress. You've probably talked about all, if not most, of the progress we've made and it's significant. A 16 percent decrease in reports of sexual assault; a greater propensity to report; a 56 percent prosecution rate, with a conviction rate of 81 percent. The Army's Special Victim Investigation Course is a DOD "Best Practice," and the Army is training military investigators and prosecutors from all the services. These are trends that point to the good work of the Army, the good work of many of you right here in this room. And they are statistics that can point us in the right direction; that, in fact, say we will continue to push, to prevail and erase this scourge from our Soldiers' lives. But they are statistics that tell us as well there is much more we have to do. There is more that those of us in senior leadership have to advance this cause to provide all of you and our frontline forces the training and the support you need to complete the mission at hand.

And as many, if not all, of you know here today, I recently signed a directive making the United States Army the first military branch to require behavioral health screenings for those we appoint to counsel and aid sexual assault victims -- our Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocates. These are positions of intense, personal trust, and we have do everything that is required to make sure that those selected have the right physical but also the right mental tools and skills necessary to carry out those vital missions effectively. Equally important, these jobs are highly stressful. And, accordingly, I believe it's important that for those we call upon to serve, we provide the means to better ensure their own continued behavioral health and well-being. This new system, evaluating the entire SARC or the entire VA, will benefit, I believe strongly, both victims and their advocates alike.

I've also placed restrictions on who can choose those who will serve as a SARC or a SAPR VA, limiting that ability to the first general officer or civilian equivalent within the chain command. Under this directive, only brigade commanders, or their equivalent-level commander or civilian supervisor, may make appointments to these vitally important positions. And those hiring authorities may not be delegated. Here, too, I believe this step will benefit both the program and those who serve in these positions. It will not only help to better ensure we select the very best people for these posts, but that the chain of command knows what is expected of them, and knows how important this work is to the Army. Put another way, I believe elevating the authority within the chain of command will increase responsibility, accountability, as well as oversight.

Finally, I have also directed that we devise a plan to incentivize successful service as a SARC or a SAPR VA. And in fact, I mentioned this idea during a meeting we recently had at the White House attended by service secretaries and chiefs to discuss our plans to combat sexual assault. Afterward, I was pleased the President seemed to agree with that concept, saying we need "our top people to understand this is as core to our mission as anything else. And," the President continued, "we've got to reward them, not think of this as a sideline for anything else that they do, but incentivize ambitious folks in the ranks to make sure that they understand this is important."

In my opinion, under our current design, there really is no reward for Soldiers who do their job well in the traditional sense, no recognition as there are in other fields and occupations in the Army for taking these assignments and doing them well, something to help them advance their careers. As in other fields, we have to incentivize this mission, not just to encourage commanders to pick their best, as important as that is, but to ensure that soldiers who do the job honorably and successfully and who complete the mission that we expect of them will be duly recognized in appropriate ways as well.

Important steps. But equally important, I want to assure you that I don't intend any of this to be a reflection on the nearly 10,000 Soldiers and civilians that we currently have serving in these critical positions. I strongly believe we have many, many committed, dedicated and well-trained people currently serving across the Army, people who work with victims compassionately, responsibly, who work with them effectively. But, sadly, as too many recent, high profile cases have shown, we are often measured less by our success than by our failures. And we need to do everything we can to make this system better; and, make no mistake about it, we are committed to doing that.

I am here to challenge each and every one of you -- to ask, and in fact to require, your continued help and your forceful leadership. Let me give you an area where work remains to be done. For the past six months, using the Army Audit Agency, we have been testing the effectiveness of the sexual assault hotlines established throughout the Army to provide assistance to victims at a time of their greatest need. Some of what we've found was good, much of what we found was not. When Triple-A first began this test in December, approximately two in every three calls were not answered successfully. Voicemails weren't returned, no one answered the phone, the number was disconnected, phone numbers listed on installation websites were wrong. There are no mere words to express the anger I felt, or to capture my disappointment.

But still, we had a plan. We weren't just testing for the sake of testing; and, since that first report, we've been working with the M&RA, G1, SHARP offices, and others to do better. We have been systematically correcting what we found to be broken, and what we needed to fix. In May, Triple-A conducted its most recent survey. And in that test, 80 percent of calls were answered successfully -- more than twice as many as in December. Is that an improvement? Absolutely. Is it good enough? Absolutely not. Not with respect to this challenge.

We need to be honest with ourselves. The odds of this Army - or any of the military services - being able to completely eradicate sexual assault and harassment are stacked against us. But it's a necessary goal. And it may be long and hard in coming, but we have to be committed to that path. However long, however hard it may be.

Whatever the odds, however steep the climb, we should be able to, we must be able to answer calls for help -- not just 80 percent of the time, but 100 percent of the time. Every time an assaulted, fellow Soldier needs help, we have to be there. We pride ourselves on the commitment to leave no fallen comrade behind. I know you agree that commitment cannot be distinguished between the battlefield and home station. That's a realistic, necessary goal that shouldn't take years or even months to achieve. We need to ensure we have accurate numbers and effective assistance. We should expect nothing less, and for that, again, we need - and we expect - your help.

Let me close the same way I began, with a sincere thank you for all you are already doing. Again stating the obvious, this is an extraordinarily difficult issue requiring hard work and committed leadership. And yes, we've done much -- you all done much -- but there is much more to do not to ensure we live, everyday, by the Army values that each one of you, that all of us, have sworn to uphold.

Many have spoken about how sexual assault impacts our readiness, degrades our ability to carry out the Army's missions. Again, I know you'll agree, they're right. How can we prepare to fight our nation's enemies when we have yet to protect ourselves from the enemy within? That's where leadership comes in -- changing the culture, and ensuring an environment of trust and respect, ensuring the safety of every Soldier -- man or woman -- wherever their duty may call them.

The 14th Century Chinese philosopher and military strategist Liu Ji wrote some six hundred years ago "what makes soldiers in battle prefer to charge ahead rather than retreat even for survival is the benevolence of military leadership." He observed, "When soldiers know their leaders care for them as they care for their own children, then the soldiers love their leaders as they do their own fathers."

I know each and every one of you, all of us, would do anything and all we could to prevent the sexual assault or sexual abuse of our own child. We have that same responsibility to the fathers and mothers who have pledged to us their sons and daughters in service to the Army and in defense of the nation. We can't let them down, we can't let our country down. And perhaps, most of all, we can't let ourselves let the Army down.

So, let me close by, again, thanking you for your dedication, for being here. This is, one of the most important things, one of the most critical challenges your Army faces today. All of us must treat it as such and must go forward. So thank you for your efforts in the future as well. May God bless you and may God bless the men and women who keep this Nation strong. Thank you.

Page last updated Tue June 11th, 2013 at 00:00