June 24, 2013
CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - For Multinational Battle Group-East, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention is not considered to be just another additional duty.
U.S. Army Col. David J. Woods, the commander of MNBG-E and the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, is operationalizing the program into every day operations.
"Why we want to operationalize it and take it from just being a program, or in some cases in the past where it was viewed as an additional duty, is because this problem is our problem," Woods, a Denbo, Pa., native, said. "We own it. We need to solve it and we can solve it."
Woods believes responsibility for SHARP needs to start at the top of the chain of command and should continue down to every level.
"Our profession is built on the bedrock of trust, and sexual assault and sexual harassment betrays that trust. We can't have it," Woods said. "As the leaders of this organization, we have to take these programs, especially this program, and we've got to make it real to every individual out there."
With the help of the brigade SHARP Advocate, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Danielle Carlsen, Woods made sure everyone, from U.S. troops to the battle group's multinational partners, knew about the program.
"We've talked to several international troops and a lot of them have similar ideas of what is appropriate and inappropriate, with slight variations," Carlsen said. "The Romanians have a very similar policy, but they don't have a SHARP program."
Since MNBG-E is a battle group comprised of several nations, it's important everyone understands SHARP. U.S. troops are going to be working side-by-side with multinational partners and in order to have a safe work environment, everyone needs to have a general respect and understanding with each other on behavior that is tolerable and intolerable, Carlsen said.
"We are addressing this problem aggressively, and from what I've seen of my multinational partners in this battle group, they also share this concern and they are also dealing with these challenges and problems," Woods said. "What we want to do is ensure we share our experiences, we share our practices, we build that trust not only within our own formation as U.S. soldiers, but in the MNBG-E formation that we have here as a team.
We talk about it all the time, 'One Team, Forward Together.' That's in every aspect of what we do in the battle group. It's our responsibility, regardless of what nation they are from, what country they're from, what unit they're from, to get them [victims] the help they need and deal with the people that have caused them to be a victim."
Woods said the battle group would not have been able to operationalize the SHARP program without a motivated battle group victim advocate to spearhead the effort.
"She [Carlsen] has taken this program from paper to execution and she has operationalized it for us by the way she operates among the soldiers," Woods said. "She has made the SHARP program a combat-multiplier at MNBG-E. We've all attacked this problem, but she looked at it as not only a program on paper, but now how do I do it, how does it come to life for every individual on the ground, and that's what we're going after."
Carlsen is very passionate about her job as the SHARP advocate.
"It's one of those jobs that you love, but you hope you never have to do," Carlsen said. "Just knowing that you helped somebody, even if it was just to be someone to talk to during a rough time, is very, very rewarding. I've had multiple commanders who have supported the program, but [Woods] is the first one who has really driven me to want to do more."
Woods said they continue to talk about the program every chance they get, giving soldiers the strength to come forward if something has happened.
"We're giving them the confidence, the tool of confidence, to come forward and say something," Woods said. "Sometimes our victims of these crimes feel ashamed and embarrassed, like they won't be believed or no one will take them seriously. Well that's not going to happen here. We take every single one of these [reports] extremely serious and we investigate them fully. And I want the victims to know, we have their back, we will take care of this, we will solve this together."
For Woods, Carlsen and the MNBG-E team, the battle is far from over, but they are winning one day at a time by spreading the word about the program.
"Are we there yet? No, we're not," Woods said. "But we're going to continue to educate, we're going to continue to inform, we're going to continue to enforce the Army standards, we're going to continue to enforce the standards as human beings regardless of the nation, country, military, or background."
Carlsen said there are multiple hotlines, both international and in the United States that will refer people to help if they need it. She is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and all subordinate units also have a victim advocate that people can talk to.