FORT BENNING, Ga., (July 17, 2013) -- With the Army stepping up its efforts to combat sexual harassment, assault and violence within its ranks, Maneuver Center of Excellence Commanding General Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster took time to share his views on how sexual offenses are affecting the Army and ways to prevent those offenses.

While the Army promotes the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program and has implemented new Department of Defense initiatives, McMaster said it is important to recognize that sexual harassment and assault is a threat to combat readiness.

"First of all, we have to recognize the standards that come with our profession are very high, so this type of behavior cannot be tolerated at all," he said. "That has a lot to do with what we expect of each other as Soldiers, what is expected of us by society, and meeting those expectations. We know we are not going to tolerate this. We are going to fix this because it is inconsistent with our values. It is inconsistent with who we are as an Army, who we are as Soldiers, and what our expectations are of ourselves and each other."

The key to protecting Soldiers, he said, is making sure that leaders communicate with their Soldiers and help them to understand that under no circumstances is sexual harassment and assault acceptable. In short, the general emphasized that the entire chain of command will focus on protecting victims, investigating and prosecuting perpetrators, nurturing a positive command climate, and hold individuals -- and each other -- accountable.

"Just like any other problem we face in our Army in combat or in peacetime training, we're going to solve it with the chain of command, and I have tremendous confidence in our leaders at every level," he said.

"It's a comprehensive effort across all of Fort Benning, but the main thing is the chain of command must be active every day. It's going to be sergeants leading Soldiers that really makes the difference in this effort."

Sexual harassment and assault within the ranks can chip away at the foundation of trust that must be built in order for the Army to maintain its combat effectiveness, something McMaster said must not happen.

"Our Army is a team, where Soldiers are bound together by mutual trust and respect," he said.

"They're in units where the person next to you is willing to give anything, including their own life, for you. Anything that violates that trust or violates that respect is a grave threat to our combat readiness. It's the kind of behavior that Soldiers can't tolerate from each other, and leaders have to make sure that Soldiers understand that any sort of behavior that can lead to sexual harassment or sexual assault cannot be tolerated."

And while commanders must be vigilant in looking for opportunities to prevent sexual offenses, ultimately all throughout the Army's ranks and civilian workforce must share the burden.

"Everybody is responsible for intervening in any instance of sexual assault or sexual harassment," McMaster said.

"Leaders at all levels, as well as Soldiers at all levels, have to correct any of that behavior that they see or experience anywhere at Fort Benning."

Despite the challenges the Army faces, progress is being made.

Army surveys show that between 2009 and 2012, female Soldiers' "propensity to report" having been the victim of sexual assault has increased from 28 percent to 42 percent. McMaster said that willingness to report must continue to grow, and each reported instance must be treated seriously.

"We encourage any victims to come forward and report," he said.

A variety of programs and individuals are available across Fort Benning to aid and protect victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.

Each unit has a full-time sexual assault response coordinator at the brigade level and a part-time SARC at the battalion level.

Each unit and battalion also has a victims' advocate, who will work with and assist any victim who comes forward, as well.

In addition, Fort Benning has an installation SHARP team that consists of an installation SARC and VA. Victims or concerned parties may also call the Fort Benning sexual assault hotline at 706-566-7393.

Page last updated Wed July 17th, 2013 at 11:37