Secretary of the Army John McHugh speaks about the Army's important efforts to end sexual assault during the Sexual Assault Awareness Month Kick-off Ceremony held in the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., March 27, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. John G. Martinez/Released)

WASHINGTON--Good Morning. Chief, thanks for your great leadership your inspiring words, your leadership and your partnership. Sergeant Major, [I] appreciate all you do each and every day. Dr. Altendorf it's always great to be with you. So many army leaders [are here] , the Vice Chief of Staff, our acting [assistant] secretary Bob Speer, surgeon general, and many others.

But I would be remiss if I didn't say a special word of thanks and welcome to the Army's newest civilian employee, the 31st Under Secretary of the Army Brad Carson. Brad, great to see you. I had the opportunity and honor to swear Brad in last night at about 5:30, that's 17:30 for most of you people. We're very fortunate that he's here and I know he shares our common commitment to our purpose here today.

We've shown a little Army flexibility this morning. This was originally scheduled to be outside. March decided to howl more like the proverbial lion than the lamb so here we are inside but more to the point our gathering really is, as the Chief mentioned, about April. And April is truly a month that symbolizes the change of seasons and what we hope, particularly this year, is a final end to the harshness and the cruelty of winter.

And when you think about it that's really why we're here today, not only to mark April as the recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but also to reaffirm our own commitment to change, a change of culture and to renew our efforts to finally, at long last, put a true end to the scourge of sexual assault within our ranks.

I've said it before, I know all of you recognize it too. Each and every day the vast majority, the overwhelming number of Soldiers and civilians in this Army discharge their duties with integrity, they do it with competence and particularly profound respect for their comrades in arms.
But as Secretary Hagel has said, "sexual assault is a stain on the honor of millions of military men and women and a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force."

As we have seen too clearly in newspaper headlines across the country and in Congressional hearings the Chief and I took part in just this past week, dishonor, even if by a few really reflects on us all. And together, all of us have that responsibility to exhibit the leadership and the commitment to intervene and, of course most of all, to act.

As troubling as the scourge of sexual assault is to our Army, as has been noted, we have made progress thanks to people such as you and we've done it not just by fighting back.

Chief mentioned those areas of progress. We've encouraged and are seeing greater reporting and victims are coming forward, are showing they have increasing trust in command. And they're doing it in greater numbers than ever before. And as the Chief also said, a growing number of those reports come from years past, often started before service in the United States Army. And that does tell us victims feel more confident. They're beginning to believe that they should report these crimes and when they do, they will be taken seriously and their commanders will follow-up and act upon them as they should.

And we're doing better in other ways. Our Special Victim Investigation Course is a DOD "Best Practice." We've been training military investigators and prosecutors, but not just for ourselves, we're doing it for all the services.

We're ensuring the right training for those SARCs and VAs by having them credentialed through the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office; and SHARP's pilot schoolhouse. And we're going to expand upon those kinds of requirements ourselves and give them even more knowledge, skills and abilities.

We've enhanced the Evaluation Reporting System to assess how officers and NCOs are meeting their commitments -- ultimately holding them accountable through mandatory comments on how those leaders are acting to foster climates of dignity and respect and most of all how they're discharging their duties with respect to their adherence to our SHARP program.

And we've enacted stringent criteria and background checks for those serving in positions of particular trust, including SARCs and including VAs -- and that is going to better ensure that commanders have the opportunity and know that it is their responsibility to select those who are best suited for those vital positions not just who may be available. And we see today first hand we are getting the right people for this vital job.

When he was the commander of Fort Screven, Georgia, then-Lieutenant Colonel George Marshall was asked how many Soldiers he could spare for the Civilian Conservation Corps -- a New Deal project and like so many other things in this building it was placed under the oversight of the Army.

He said, "Leave my post surgeon, my commissary officer, my post-exchange officer, and my adjutant, I will run this command with…sergeants." Now, that's history, but it's true today.

Time and time again we've relied upon our NCO Corps to provide that critical leadership, to bring that culture, to extend that understanding of Army values into our ranks. Always taking on our most pressing challenges, and today, as the Sergeant Major noted, that is no different.

To Master Sergeant Richard Fry, my personal congratulations on being selected our SARC of the Year. Thank you for your service, most of all thank you for helping us make a difference.
Well, we've talked about some of the initiatives, programs and policy changes we've enacted to fight the good fight. But that's just really a start of our obligation, because as the Chief noted, programs, policies, flip charts alone simply aren't going to do it.

That's what leadership is about -- changing the culture; constructing an environment of trust and enduring respect; ensuring the safety of every Soldier, man or woman, wherever their duty may call them.

Now, the Army isn't alone in this challenge. In fact, this observance -- Sexual Assault Awareness Month -- as Dr. Altendorf noted is really part of a nationwide observance taking its roots back some 40 years, to the "Take Back The Night" marches, that at that time were intended to raise public awareness on this pressing issue.

And that seems particularly fitting to me today, because we're calling on you to take back your Army. To take back your Army from those who harm or assault our Soldiers, America's sons and America's daughters. To take back your Army from those who ignore the values and who stain all of our honor. To take back our Army from those who fail to lead, those who fail to uphold our laws as well as our regulations.

This isn't a challenge limited to a single month. The Army will only get better when each and every one of us considers it a critical and a daily mission.

The good news is I'm confident. I know with your help, with your leadership we are getting there, we are making progress. And with your continued efforts we're going to do even better. We owe it to them, those who put on the uniform. We owe it to the American people, those folks who look up to this Army, because of the bedrock of values upon for which it was built. Most of all, we owe it to ourselves. So, thank you for being here and God bless you all.

Page last updated Fri April 4th, 2014 at 16:42