By Robin BoggsSeptember 6, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 6, 2013) -- When Russell Strand, chief of the Family Advocacy Law Enforcement Training Division, U.S. Army Military Police School, led a training session on eliminating sexual assault from the military, he had U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command leaders front and center.
Strand, an expert in domestic violence intervention and combating sexual assault, conducted a training engagement across the globe thanks to a video teleconference from Redstone Arsenal, Ala., Aug. 29. U.S. Army Materiel Command Commanding General Gen. Dennis Vie hosted the live training session in support of the Army's push to eliminate sexual harassment and assault from its ranks.
ATEC leaders from lieutenant colonels and above and senior civilian leaders from GS-14 equivalent and above participated in the training in various locations across the U.S. at the direction of ATEC Commanding General Maj. Gen. Peter D. Utley. In an operation order, Utley announced "sexual harassment and sexual assault have no place in ATEC" and it is essential for ATEC leaders and employees alike to promote "dignity, demonstrate respect, and enforce a standard of zero tolerance."
During the session, Strand sputtered language not typically heard during military training, showed interesting videos on the subject matter, and even shared a personal account of how sexual assault affected his own daughter, causing her to walk away from military service. All of which helped keep the audience engaged in the presentation, said Eric Kirk, Networks Division chief, Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Evaluation Directorate, U.S. Army Evaluation Center.
"Russell Strand shows you that it [training] doesn't have to be long to be effective," he said. "He is energetic, while respectful of the problem; his method keeps you engaged."
Several ATEC senior leaders who attended from across the command expressed the training by Strand was more beneficial than traditional sexual harassment and assault training, but not all of them shared the same takeaways.
Col. Mary Abrams, director, Sustainment Evaluation Directorate, AEC, voiced concern that the military isn't retaining troops following sexual assault incidents. According to Strand, within two years of an incident, victims leave military service and the suspect is typically still in the military.
"The fact that most victims leave the service is disheartening," she said. "It shows we're not taking care of our Soldiers."
Ordinary and sex offender aren't two words typically associated together; Strand offered the contrary. "Sex offenders are 99% like you and I," he said. "They are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet."
This fact was a bit unnerving for Mike Joiner, a senior test manager with ATEC G9.
"Despite what we think we know, perpetrators aren't easy to identify," he said. "I thought bad behavior would be pervasive; that perpetrators would be easy to predict based on previous behavior and would provide warning signs. They don't stand out in a crowd and only show us the side they want us to know."
Strand shared that the military draws in more sex offenders than the average population. "Why?" he asked. "Because when they walk in they get instant credibility. We train every Soldier on the Warrior Ethos, the Army Values and to trust each other."
Often times, according to Strand, suspects choose victims who are less confident and perhaps have behavioral problems to bolster their own credibility and competence. Judy Tredway, ATEC G1 director, and Leah Cunningham, chief, Environmental & Component Test Directorate at Redstone Test Center, both took that information to heart.
"Don't judge the situation; be as impartial as you can be," said Tredway. "[Strand] clearly identified that character versus competence is much more valuable to all of us; competence should never come first."
Cunningham said she will not let personal bias dictate who is credible and who isn't. "Do not assume innocence or guilt with accused or accuser," she said.
Where Strand offered jaw-dropping statistics, he offered solutions too. He noted that the military's goal of eliminating sexual assault altogether is a noble one; however, more realistically, the military's goals of reducing the number of incidents of sexual assault and increasing how we respond to victims are critical in changing the culture.
"Cultural change has to be personal to everyone all the time," he said. "Each and every one of you knows someone who's been sexually assaulted or raped - you just may not know it."
He firmly believes the military is positioned to make a huge difference, not just at the leadership level, but down through the squad level as well. "If we don't we're going to fail," he said. "This is not about sexual assault; this is about trust, respect, and being a Soldier in a professional, values-based organization."
He also noted that as we see more reports of sexual harassment and assault, we will see reductions in other issues plaguing the military like suicide and child abuse. "We can change the culture and bring back discipline. If we can't do it, no one can.
"We have to be that beacon on the hill; the organization that everyone can look up to."