SHARP program reformed
May 22, 2014
Across the Army, from Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno on down, leaders have sought to change the culture when it comes to sexual assault and sexual harassment.
One initiative, already in effect at Fort Hood, involved replacing contractors with Department of the Army civilians and Soldiers to lead each installation's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training. The change improved stability and created a more responsive SHARP office, said Blaine Radenz, a recently hired DA civilian within the III Corps and Fort Hood SHARP Office.
"We can set our own pace for what courses we want to do, the timing of them," Radenz said of being able to quickly respond to the program manager's assessments. "If we need extra focus on a particular unit, we can shift some things down there."
Radenz will attend the 12-week SHARP Trainer Course at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, over the summer. Upon completion of the course, Radenz will join the office's two Soldier instructors, Sgt. 1st Class
Benjamin Merker and Sgt. 1st Class Terrea Evans-Jones, who participated in Fort Belvoir's pilot SHARP Trainer Course at the beginning of 2014.
Having trainers in the military, or with prior military experience, increases the instructors' ability to relate to their students, Merker said.
"Some didn't understand some of the terminologies used that would be different in scenarios that we've had or dealing with the rank
structure," Merker said of previous contractors.
"It's just a more flexible, responsive, better-trained, more experienced training force for the installation," Radenz added.
Lt. Col. Jacqueline Davis, Fort Hood's SHARP program manager, fought to have Merker and Evans-Jones attend the pilot course, Radenz said, and now Fort Hood reaps the benefits. The two noncommissioned officers finished leading their first 80-hour SHARP certification course Friday, teaching 32 company-, battalion- and brigade-level SHARP representatives, comprised of both Soldiers and DA civilians.
The content of the course has shifted from victim-focused to offender-focused, Merker said, part of the Army's attempt to change the culture. Merker and Evans-Jones shared preventative measures to help reduce the number of victims -- techniques such as identifying harmful characteristics ahead of time and neutralizing them before they develop into an incident.
"That's our big thing right now," Merker said, adding that they're pushing the Intervene, Act and Motivate motto. "You can no longer just be a bystander. If you see your battle buddy in a situation, you intervene, you stop it, you hinder it. You can't just stand by and let someone else take care of it."
"When we met with the chief of staff of the Army, he told us that he needs help, because we have to have a culture change," Evans-Jones said. "In order to have a cultural change, we're going to have to be down in the trenches with these Soldiers and start making the changes there. It might be slow and subtle, but at least we're trying."
Just as Odierno asked for help, Evans-Jones and Merker began the two-week course by doing the same.
"We told them that we needed their help," Evans-Jones said. "We can't change it by ourselves."
The class also taught students how to handle scenarios involving victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault, Merker said. It involved relaying communication procedures to be able to talk about an inherently difficult topic.
Staff Sgt. Shtina Love, a SHARP rep with 3rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said the course was packed full of information.
"It's a lot of information that has been thrown at us, but it's only to make our organizations better so that we'll be able to identify some of the current taboos that are out there," she said, adding that she sees things moving in the right direction with this course. "I definitely think I will be a benefit and will be able to help change the climate back at my home station."
Jennifer Velez, a DA civilian assigned to be a SHARP rep with the 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said she benefited from the course being centered on role-playing, acting out real-world scenarios.
Upon returning to their units, Evans-Jones encouraged the SHARP reps to be active members of their community.
"It's about getting out and about and talking to Soldiers, building that rapport with the Soldiers so that they know they have a SHARP rep that cares," Evans-Jones said. "And then they'll start to feel comfortable enough to go to that rep if something ever happens."
Through the end of the current fiscal year, the two-week course will be offered once a month. For the other half of the month, Evans-Jones and Merker will be able to travel to other local installations to share the same training.
From the lowest levels up, Evans-Jones said she sees Fort Hood's program moving forward.
"I just want Gen. Odierno to know: he said he needs help in this fight," Evans-Jones said. "Fort Hood is going to give him all we have."