WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 22, 2009) -- Army Families attending a recent Soldier Show at Fort Belvoir, Va., were greeted by a unique group of Soldiers from the Army's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers Program.

These Soldiers were the first in a long line of BOSS members committed to helping the Army change its culture through its "I.A.M Strong" Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program.

"I. A.M." stands for intervene, act and motivate - the cornerstones of the Army's campaign to raise awareness of sexual harassment and assault.

"These BOSS program Soldiers have taken 'I. A.M. Strong' to heart and are at the forefront in promoting a culture that highlights the Army's core values and will strike at the nerve of every Soldier to intervene to stop sexual harassment and assaults in the Army," said Carolyn Collins, the SHARP program director in Army G-1, Human Resources Directorate.

"Soldiers from the BOSS program will lead this effort at posts, camps and installations across the Army; reaching one of our key audiences, 17 to 24-year-old single Soldiers," Collins said.

"We have the tools and the resources, the Soldiers, and direct lines of communication," said Robert Lattanzi, BOSS program manager for the Army. "We have a conduit in place, and I think our partnership with 'I. A.M. Strong' is going to be fabulous."

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Preston Kenneth O. Preston launched the new "I.A.M. Strong" peer-to-peer training effort with an announcement to Soldiers attending the 2008 BOSS Conference in Lansdowne, Va., in August last year. This was the birth of this partnership. He will participate again this year.

"The Army has been the first in changing society in many ways...," Preston said at the Army's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention Summit in April. We were first - first to integrate minorities and eliminate segregation. We integrated female Soldiers in units and eliminated the Women's Army Corps in 1978. We must be the first to change our culture to eliminate sexual harassment and assault to help our nation affect change again."

Preston charged the NCOs attending the summit with making knowledge of the SHARP program a part of NCO promotion boards, NCO and Soldier of the Year competitions and part of the Sgt. Morales and Audie Murphy clubs.

The distinct position of BOSS makes it an accessible host for the I. A.M. Strong campaign to young Soldiers who may be at risk. Fifty-one percent of Soldiers serving today are single, geographic bachelors, or unaccompanied Soldiers.

"We can serve, through the BOSS program, as a conduit of information for the I. A.M. Strong Campaign," said Spc. Johnathon Maki. "We are already at that level, so we feel very strongly that we can and will be successful with this program."

Another feature of BOSS is its involvement of noncommissioned officers. Most of the BOSS participants are junior NCOs -- sergeants and staff sergeants who have a large role in mentoring young Soldiers.

"Soldiers might be afraid to go to their squad leader about stuff," said Sgt. Ian Combs, "but if they know you are an NCO and they respect you - even if they don't belong to you - they will come up to you with anything, and I mean anything."

Spreading the message about I. A.M. Strong requires BOSS members to be innovative. "We are going to staff the I. A.M. Strong booth at the Army Soldier Show and the Army Concert performances, where there is an Army BOSS program," said Sgt. Jennifer Johnson. "It's out there, it's visible, and you can't miss it."

The I. A.M. Strong booth at the Fort Belvoir Soldier Show allowed Soldiers to be front and center in starting the dialogue with performance attendees. Even the most basic questions received many different responses.

"We asked some really in-depth questions about sexual assault and sexual harassment; first, just asking what people thought about [sexual harassment and assault] and what they thought it was," said Spc. Timesha Ragsdale. "The answers we got were all over the board."

Similar reactions came from fellow participants as well. "I was absolutely amazed at some of the statistics regarding age groups, how quickly it happens and what's reported and what's not reported," said Sgt. Josh White, a BOSS member and Soldier Show volunteer.

The feedback from booth visitors was overwhelmingly positive. "Everyone we talked to said that I. A.M. Strong was a great idea," said Ragsdale.

"When we told people about the campaign, they were all like, 'It's about time!'" said White. "They liked how the Army was being pro-active about it."

Since the Soldier Show, the BOSS participants continue to spread the word about I. A.M. Strong and the SHARP initiatives through discussion. "At our last meeting, I brought up the issue of sexual harassment and assault. I was surprised at how long we talked about it," said Ragsdale.

White discussed the importance of early awareness. "When I joined the Army, I was 19 and there was a bunch that I didn't know," he said. "Now I think we're at a period about awareness where we know we have a place to go and we don't have to bottle it up inside."

The Army has been working with BOSS to get the I. A.M. Strong campaign down to the newest enlistee. "Initial Entry Training Soldiers are going to be saturated with the anti-sexual harassment and sexual assault message from the time they step through the Army's doors until the time the Soldiers reach their first duty stations," said Shepard.

The Army is also planning on integrating I. A.M. Strong into Army Reserve Officer Training Corps programs at more than 250 colleges and universities. "We are working very closely with Cadet Command on this and they are working those ways ahead," said Collins. "I think that this would be an excellent opportunity to start college versions of [I. A.M. Strong]."

As the I. A.M. Strong campaign prepares to reach even more audiences through a variety of means, the BOSS participants want to make sure one message is consistent.

"NCOs are the backbone of the Army and will be a key to the success of this effort," said Staff Sgt. Victor Danielson, one of the BOSS participants at Fort Belvoir. "We will highlight the Army Values and the Warrior Ethos by leading the way in awareness and training to change the Army culture by ridding the force of this crime."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16