By Megan Paice, RDECOM public affairsMarch 7, 2018
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Working with victims of sexual assault, or any trauma, is not for the faint of heart.
The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention program, known as SHARP, educates military and civilian workforces throughout the U.S. Army.
Deborah Prue Chambers has been at the core of the Research, Development and Engineering Command's SHARP efforts for the past five years. As a SARC, or sexual assault response coordinator, Prue Chambers made major changes to how RDECOM conducts the SHARP training. Training that now reaches every corner of APG.
"Sexual assault is not a military problem; it's a societal problem," Prue Chambers said, adding that SHARP's mission is to reduce and eventually eliminate sexual assault within the Army. The program uses the tools of prevention, intervention, investigation, accountability, advocacy and training.
Prue Chambers' journey to coax cultural and societal change within the workforce began as a U.S. Army Reserve technician. When a young, Army Reservist missed too many days of duty, Prue Chambers had to send a discharge letter. This letter would remove all G.I. education benefits, reduction in rank and kick the Soldier out of the Reserves.
The next day the Reservist went to Prue Chambers and disclosed that they had been sexually assaulted by three lieutenants in a USAR center, making the assault on federal property. Prue Chambers had a unit transfer ready for the Soldier in 20 minutes.
"I can't tell you how I felt: anger, disgust," she said.
Before enlisting in 1980, Prue Chambers was a blue collar worker who wanted more out of life. She was no stranger to being treated differently in male-dominated environments.
She was assigned to a field artillery unit with the National Guard and was later told that women were not allowed in the unit.
"The National Guard Bureau sent a letter to my commander and copied me; I still have the letter. It said that my commander should counsel me out of the unit because I didn't have what it took to be in that MOS (military occupational specialist)," she said.
Prue Chambers has held both civilian and military roles.
After being called up for active duty and other career moves that impacted her, she came to the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, in 1996, with the U.S. Army Technical Escort Unit, Human Resources Development, or HRD.
Prue Chambers retired from the military as Sgt. 1st Class and is proud to have spent the majority of her career as a HRD specialist, for both military and civilian.
During a HRD assignment at ECBC, Prue Chambers was given collateral duties as the ECBC SHARP. Later detailed to RDECOM HQ to establish a command wellness program, continuing her SHARP collateral duties.
Her the first year, the documentary, "The Invisible War," was shown to 80 members of the workforce. The documentary depicted survivors sharing stories of their own sexual assaults, while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Prue Chambers recalls the uncomfortable looks of distress and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder from the 80 participants in the auditorium.
"I don't know what you know about me but I'm pretty vocal. Nobody should be forced to watch that movie, especially as mandatory training," she said.
Her background and skill helped answer a common question from the workforce: "What does wellness have to do with SHARP?"
"Nothing and everything," she said. "If someone is being sexually harassed, there are many indicators and implications that show in the organization and employee's life."
She assumed the leadership of RDECOM's SHARP program and, in April 2014, transitioned to the permanent SHARP Program Manager of RDECOM in August.
In FY14, RDECOM's previous leadership authorized her to modify the training package for their civilian workforce.
With the success and positive feedback from the FY14 training, leadership authorized the expansion of the pilot program to include the entire RDECOM workforce. APG's Senior Installation Commander announced that SHARP would continue to be in the forefront and training would go forward to support the installation initiative, leading the SHARP Expo as a pilot program.
She began every new class with, "This is isn't going to look the same as last year's training."
"If I don't say what's in it for them, then I'm not doing justice to the program," she said.
Current leadership challenged Prue Chambers to develop a SHARP Part 2 separate from the online training for FY17.
SHARP Part 2 training includes a continuation of the face-to-face classroom training. In FY 17, the RDECOM workforce had achieved 100 percent completion rate for both SHARP Part 1 and SHARP Part 2 training.
The annual SHARP Expo, piloted in 2015, had 200 participants and doubled the next year.
The 2016 SHARP Expo guest speaker and sexual assault survivor, Holly Gregory, worked closely with Prue Chambers.
"She gave me the opportunity to tell my story and hopefully I helped someone else going through a similar situation. My goal is to tell my story to as many people as I can," Gregory said. "Before the (SHARP) Expo, she pinned a purple ribbon on me. It meant a lot because it came from her. I wear it every time I speak."
Last year's Expo included a male presenter, Command Sgt. Maj. Aaron Stone, a survivor of childhood sexual assault. He told his story in front of 300 members of the APG workforce. One in six males are sexually assaulted before the age of 18 and cultural stigmas make it harder for males to report.
RDECOM employees volunteer and help facilitate at the SHARP Expo stations. Michcell Schoultz, volunteer and SARC, finished a rotation at the SHARP Resource Center and talked about the program's leader.
"Deb is a dedicated, capable and passionate SHARP professional. She has worked tirelessly to serve RDECOM and the larger APG community," Schoultz said.
Mary McCarron, RDECOM Human Resources, also as volunteered at the Expo and has worked on several wellness events with Prue Chambers.
"Working with Deb has been one of the highlights of working at RDECOM. I was able to help with the SHARP and the SHARP Expo initiatives, which was a sobering and eye-opening experience. Deb is an advocate for the victim; a teacher dedicated to destigmatizing sexual assault and harassment, while educating the workforce about sexual assault and harassment; and takes every opportunity to update and make the training better. I will miss her greatly," McCarron said.
Prue Chambers believes that the program growth she's witnessed is because of the latitude that allowed annual changes for timely and relevant information. In parts of RDECOM, she said, there has been increase in sexual assault and harassment reporting after both the classroom training and the Expo.
Julie Coyne, IT specialist, has been working with Prue Chambers to be a collateral duty SARC.
"I have been a victim's advocate volunteer for many years now and met some incredible people. Not a single person has even come close to being like Deb. She's unbelievably strong and I am thankful to have worked with her and continue to learn from her," Coyne said.
Prue Chambers continues to share her training with other agencies for their consideration and use.
For now, Prue Chambers' retirement plan includes an immediate trip to her boat to relax and not worry about the next day's work. Her ultimate goal is, "A golf cart," she said. "It has to be a four seater and decorated like a tiki bar. I want to live in a Florida golf cart community and drive to Panera for lunch in my cart."
She looks forward to unwinding but will never forget the survivors she's met or their stories.
"It's the hardest job I'll ever love," she said.