American soldiers are members of a band of brothers and sisters, bound by common values, and duty and loyalty to each other that sets them apart from society.
They are bound by a commitment to their comrades that outsiders find incomprehensible, and a willingness to sacrifice for each other.
In Iraq, that bond led 19-year-old Pfc. Ross McGinnis to cover a grenade with his body to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. In Afghanistan, 19-year-old medic Pfc. Monica Brown threw her body on top of wounded soldiers to protect them from mortar and small-arms fire - and provided them medical care as bullets rained down around them.
Pfc. McGinnis gave his life, and Pfc. Brown offered hers for our band of brothers and sisters.
It is in this context that we must consider the crime of sexual assault and the enabling offense of sexual harassment - and the duty of bystanders to intervene and protect their comrades from harassment and the risk of assault.
In 2007, the rate of reported sexual assault cases in the Army was more than double the rate of our sister services. Over the past seven years, with our nation at war, more than 1,800 soldiers have been punished for sexual assault of their fellow soldiers.
The soldiers who committed these crimes betrayed not only their victims, but their band of brothers and sisters who counted on them. They violated a sacred trust.
When a soldier fails to intervene to protect a comrade from harassment or the risk of assault, he or she has forsaken the duty to never leave a fallen comrade.
Sexual assault and harassment are repugnant to everything a soldier stands for and destructive of the moral fiber that gives our Army its inner strength.
Army leadership is joining with soldiers across the Army in a commitment to eliminate sexual assault and harassment from our ranks. Our goal is to create a climate of zero tolerance for gender-based misconduct - in attitude, word and deed. As our Army erased the ugly stain of racism and built our nation's model organization for color-blind opportunity, so must we succeed in this effort.
The Army staff has developed a comprehensive plan to achieve this goal, with a program built on the bedrock values that define and distinguish our Army and soldiers. The program includes training of our soldiers to ensure they understand their responsibility to intervene to stop sexual harassment and protect their comrades from the risk of sexual assault, and tactics to intervene effectively.
We will include the U.S. Military Academy, Reserve Officers Training Corps and Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps in our program and develop leaders who understand their responsibilities to their comrades.
The U.S. Army is the best in the world at what it does. That is because of our values, our warrior ethos and our people. With the success of this effort, we will more fully align our Army with the values we profess and the ideals lived, even unto death, by soldiers like Ross McGinnis and Monica Brown.