ANSBACH, Germany (April 21, 2014) -- Because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, team sponsored a walk Thursday, at Katterbach Kaserne, Germany.
The event included remarks by Col. Christopher M. Benson, USAG Ansbach commander, and guest speaker Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, commander of the 7th U.S. Army's Joint Multinational Training Command, headquartered in Grafenwoehr, Germany.
The walk began at the Katterbach Physical Fitness Center, where Benson made his remarks to an audience mostly of Soldiers.
"The Army is committed to eliminating sexual assault and harassment," said Benson. "Commanders and first-line leaders are jointly responsible for leading the fight to create a command climate that encourages a victim to report incidents without fear of reprisal.
"It's not only a leader's responsibility to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment," continued Benson. "It's all of our responsibility to do so. The U.S. Army Europe commanding general (Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr.) was here just a few days ago, and he spoke to several groups about sexual assault. He said that this fight can be won at most levels. Leaders can't be the only ones fighting. It has to be everyone at every level maintaining watch and preventing behavior that leads to sexual assaults and harassment."
SHARP victim advocates then led groups on the walk. The walk ended at the Ansbach Middle/High School track, where students joined the Soldiers. Piatt addressed the crowd there.
During his speech, he detailed a story of ongoing sexual harassment occurring within his ranks. The behavior, which persisted for more than a year and half, did not come to his attention through those being harassed but by individuals that saw the behavior from the outside and reported it.
"It happened in my brigade; it's happening here; it's happening in your unit," said Piatt. "See it, stomp it out."
Piatt told the story of one of his enlisted Soldiers while he was deployed to Iraq.
"We went out on missions every single day, she showed no fear, she analyzed the threat and always gave great analysis to me," said Piatt. "I trusted her. I needed her on the team. She was a valued member to make our mission successful in Iraq."
Despite the Soldier's courage in the face of the threat of enemy attack, she feared sexual assault within her own forward operating base.
"It was an environment that I allowed to happen," said Piatt. "We had a Soldier, star athlete in high school, star student in college and an incredibly intelligent and valued member of the team who was helping us defeat an enemy that we thought was impossible to defeat, and the only thing she was afraid of was another Soldier from her own country. It's ridiculous, and many people had to know that before I did. And many people know it, and yet we did nothing about it. We allowed the threat to be within our own ranks.
"I was proud of that Soldier, and I realized the very place that I felt safe coming in off the base away from patrol was the very place that most of my Soldiers felt most at risk," continued Piatt. "We put an active end to that. I never thought I'd go to Iraq and literally go on mission to hunt Soldiers within my own unit."
The SHARP victim advocates, while guiding groups along the walk, read out statistics and facts about sexual assault and harassment in the Army and the military. For the victim advocates, the walk was not just about raising awareness of the need for a cultural shift in the Army, but also bringing awareness to their role advocating for the victims of sexual assault.
"As a victim advocate, you're a representative of the system to support the victim through the crisis of the situation that they're going through," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Glendia Williams, victim advocate for 412th Aviation Support Battalion. "This role is important because the victims need a voice, someone they can trust and be confident [in] and will help throughout the situation that they're in."
"When you have a traumatic event happen to you, you kind of pull everything in and think you can deal with it," said Sgt. 1st Class Bambi Sharpe, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade sexual assault response coordinator. "Especially in the military, we're taught to be strong and a Soldier is a representation of the Army -- a role model. When you have something like this happen to you, you want to act strong, but you can't always be strong. We're a part of that strength. We empower them to rehabilitate back into the regular Army."
The event also had the support of unit family readiness groups, who served hotdogs and hamburgers before the event, as well as ice cream.
"It takes a community to get this right," said Williams. "It doesn't start with one person. One person can't change everything. And this is just like a big event for everyone to know and bring awareness to the situation that it does exist and that together we can change that. We can change sexual assault and sexual harassment in the Army."
Piatt made a call to action during his remarks, invoking the role bystanders have of reporting:
"It's more than stand up, it's more than march and say we're going to do the right thing. We've got to do it."
To learn more about Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention, visit www.preventsexualassault.army.mil. To contact a local SHARP representative, visit www.ansbach.army.mil/DirectoryS.html#Sexual_Assault_Response_Coordinator_(SARC) or click on the "USAG Ansbach SHARP" in the "Related Links" section.