Thank you all. Please, have a seat.

In 41 years of adult life, I have -- my mother would argue with that, by the way; she thinks my adult life has been much shorter than that--I have been introduced many, many times. The first time, however, was this afternoon where Aristotle was mentioned. So, it's a thrill for me to be here. I have to tell you, you're a long way out. We almost didn't find you, but -- nice try, we did.

[laughter]

You know, as I stand here, this is the third time I've had a chance to be a part of this very special meeting. I look across the room, and I see good news and I see bad news. Honestly, the bad news is, as you all know so very well, the scourge of sexual assault and harassment continues to be within our ranks, continues to challenge us. The good news? All of you are here. You're here, you're working, and you're making a difference. And if I serve no other purpose today, I wanted to be with you and simply say thank you. Thank you for the effort that you are bringing, for the great work that you will take back to your ranks, and thank you to those, both civilian and military in the United States Army, who recognize the importance of this challenge.

And that's why it's such a thrill for me to be here today to take part in this fifth annual conference and to express my appreciation as well to Tom Bostick and all the folks that he has working with him, and the great job they do coordinating the SHARP effort, not just during this conference, but each and every day. And because of all of those efforts, our Army is better and safer because of what you are doing in the efforts that you're making.

I said at my first summit sexual assault prevention is a matter of the greatest and gravest importance to our Army. For the record, that's still the case today. Time has not diminished the importance of this challenge. From my perspective, and I know from yours as well, there's nothing more contrary to the basic, core values of being a soldier or a civilian in our Army than sexually assaulting another human being. Yours is an organization whose very existence focuses on protecting others, protecting this great nation, protecting the people of America, protecting our allies; wherever that challenge might be, you and this Army have always been there. How can we possibly do those kinds of things unless we can protect our very own?

We're coming out of a decade of war. All of you know that. We're out of Iraq, and the path ahead in Afghanistan sees us coming home soon from there as well. But we're still an Army at war. In Afghanistan, our soldiers, male and female, as we speak at this moment, are standing side by side, more integrated, more reliant on each other than ever before. And yet, despite all the efforts you have made and we have made collectively, despite of the significant success, and I argue that we have made great successes, sexual assaults continue to be amongst us.

The fact that these despicable acts happen within our ranks at all is heartbreaking. As I mentioned, it's totally against everything we value in this institution. It tears at the fabric of our units. When sexual harassment or assault occurs in this Army, just like in any family, it affects everyone, and it calls into question the core values upon which this Army has stood since 1775. And it is those values, as you know so very well, as a leader of soldiers, that are the reasons why so many of our young men and women step forward, volunteer to don the uniform of the United States soldier. Every one of you, every one of us, is here today because we are committed to eradicating this scourge from our Army. We're committed, as this year's theme of the conference so very well states, to being a force in achieving cultural change, because that's what it's going to take -- a top to bottom cultural change in how this Army thinks, what this Army does each and every day to stop it.

Four years ago, this program and those that lead it recognized the problem for what it was then and remains, and developed a group of programs and initiatives under the I. A.M. STRONG campaign to tackle it all and tackle it head on. At that time, this Army committed itself to becoming a national leader in awareness and prevention of what is, nationwide, an underreported crime. And despite the remaining challenges you are dealing with and talking about this week, I think it's fair to say, as I mentioned earlier, you all have made significant strides. And I would argue few, if any, other organizations in this country has equaled the Army's effort and comprehensive nature of the campaign you are helping to lead.

Since 2007, this Army has spent over $50 million on the I. A.M. STRONG campaign to eradicate this crime from our ranks and educate our soldiers as to why it's so wrong. We've increased the number of special investigators and the requirements for special victim prosecutors at major Army postings. These professionals have given us better means to effectively investigate and prosecute the very few soldiers -- few, yes, but unacceptably large number of soldiers who continue to perpetrate these crimes. We've hired seven highly-qualified experts to assist our prosecution and defense efforts, and they continue to make very significant contributions. All of those things, when combined with our unprecedented training regime for our lawyers, have made and will continue to make lasting contributions to how we investigate and prosecute this serious, serious crime.

As you know, we've increased our victims' advocates, attempting to provide those specially-trained individuals at every level within our Army; provide as well a specially trained go-to person to augment the chain of command in fighting back. And most importantly, we've expanded our education efforts, because while investigation and prosecution are critically important, they're reactionary. They react to the crime after it has been committed. It's only by being proactive, by changing the culture, as I mentioned earlier, that we will truly eliminate these crimes from our Army forever. We've expanded SHARP education to our pre-commissioning sources, like West Point and ROTC, to our Basic Officer Leadership Course and to every soldier in Basic Training. These initiatives, I believe, have given us positive momentum toward our ultimate objective of eradicating these crimes from our Army. And it's especially important to reach our newest soldiers, to make sure they understand from the first day they step forward and join our ranks that this is one of the most important objectives they have before them: a workplace free from sexual harassment and assault, so that they have that core value early into their careers, and they will become stewards who lead our Army's efforts as they progress through the ranks as well.

A lot of work, a lot of challenges, but clearly, in my mind, we are headed in the right direction. The first two phases of SHARP, prevention and conviction, laid the foundation that was needed. And, in my mind, the second year of phase three, achieving cultural change, is focused right where it needs to be. Now, I don't think I'm alone here. I suspect, like you, I'm not satisfied. And while the number of reported sexual assault cases last year were down from where we began this program, from fiscal year '10 to fiscal year '11, they were up; about one percent, but too much, and we have to do more. Last year's 1,695 victims, soldiers and civilians who reported being assaulted, clearly demonstrate to us that the battle is far from over.

I had the honor of coming before you last year and said that the key to victory is energized leaders: aggressive, green tab action at every level to retake ownership of this issue from the ground up. That hasn't changed. It's still true today. And just like any program, without leadership involvement, it just won't stick. We'll lose focus. We'll lose the momentum we've gained. And ultimately, we'll risk losing the progress that all of you have worked so hard to achieve. We can't afford that, and I, nor none of the other senior leaders in this Army or in the Department of Defense, will accept it.

Our Army is not just a great institution. It's the greatest institution, an institution wherefore, as I mentioned, nearly 237 years, like-minded Americans have come together, have sacrificed, and willingly endured hardships for the sake of a greater good. Soldiers have long demonstrated the faith that is necessary and the strength that's required to meet any hardship, the courage to face danger because of the trust they have in their brothers and sisters in arms. And that's why, as hard as this is, I know we will prevail. That's why I know our efforts to eradicate these acts from our ranks will ultimately succeed, because our soldiers fight for one another. That's what they do. It's in their DNA.

Getting to the point where everyone in our Army rejects harassment and assault, recognizes it for the threat that it is, recognizes it as a challenge to this great institution, that will be a great day. That will be the day every soldier takes it upon themselves to act decisively, to prevent these crimes, and provide the leadership necessary to bring education and enlightenment, and ensure that institutional commitment.

As an Army, we have the ingredients for success in abundance: great leaders, great programs, great dedication. And we still have work to do, but, as I said, your efforts are making a difference. And as we rededicate ourselves this week to this critical task, as we use this fifth SHARP summit to refocus and to renew our efforts, we do so knowing that you've all laid a great foundation, and together, all levels of this Army, all ranks, civilian and uniform, together, we will continue to attack this problem with the intensity and the attention it demands. Our soldiers deserve nothing less than an Army that lives up to its own core values.

So, again, thank you for all you've done. Thank you for being here. God bless you, and God bless this great Army that keeps this amazing country safe. Thank you.

[applause]

Page last updated Tue May 15th, 2012 at 13:11