JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. - "Immediately I was like, oh, oh, I want to intervene. I need to intervene right now. Then I was like, 'Can we stop this?'"
Those were the words and thoughts of Sgt. Juan Jackson, of Lakewood, Washington, as he watched a sergeant first class pat the rear end of another male Soldier several times. But it got worse. The sergeant first class didn't stop at touching.
"I'll help you pass, get you promoted. And if I help you, you can help me out," he said.
Fortunately, this was just a setup to see how Jackson and other competitors in this year's Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition might react to the scenario.
Moments before the event began, a cadre member warned the Warriors they were about to watch a scenario related to Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention, commonly known as SHARP in the Army community. SHARP is one of the top five priorities in the Army. Soldiers are required to train annually on the topic to recognize signs of harassment and sexual assault in the workforce and know what to do about it."There's a lot of incidents right now [in the Army] and I think it needs to be brought out ... These competitors that are here are supposed to be the best of the best, so it's a way of seeing how well they know how the SHARP process goes, and what actions they should take if it happens in their presence," said Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Gibson, of Pearl, Mississippi, who played the role of the harassing noncommissioned officer (NCO) in the scenario.
Gibson is the appointed harassment and assault victim's advocate for the 412th Theater Engineer Command (TEC).
Competitors arrived three at a time to watch the role-play, which lasted only a few minutes. As they watched, a senior NCO graded another Soldier performing his pushups while wearing a physical fitness uniform. At one point, the Soldier's butt came up too high in the air, making the pushup invalid.
"You're doing it wrong," said the sergeant first class. "Get your butt down," and he would smack him two or three times, clearly audible in the frozen room.
That's when Jackson tried to step in and stop it, but the instructors told him to let it play out. The level of discomfort was visible on every one of the competitors' faces.
"It was badness all over," said Jackson of the harassing behavior. Jackson is a corrections officer with the 493rd Military Police Company, and is representing the 416th TEC in this year's competition.
Finally, once the scenario ended, the Soldiers were divided and asked questions about what happened, and what they could have done to intervene. Each one answered, making the distinction between harassment and assault, a line that is often blurred when sexual contact is made. Then they answered the process of reporting an incident, the difference between a restricted or unrestricted report, and other steps they could take to protect fellow Soldiers from this behavior.
"I honestly had no idea it was going to happen. It was a shock," said Spc. Rahman Gholston, of Lakewood, Washington, an air defense battle management systems operator for the 301st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, also representing the 416th TEC.
The event, in fact, was secretly known as "Mystery Event Zero." It was thrown into the mix right after the first briefing as a way to keep competitors on their toes. According to the competition schedule, most Soldiers thought events wouldn't start until the next morning. They were wrong.
The scenario was drawn up intentionally to involve two males to remind Soldiers that harassment doesn't have a narrow field.
"From my experience, male on male sexual assault is the least reported because we're in the Army, and it's all about [being] macho. Many men do not report it, so we're just trying to bring that to light," said Sgt. 1st Class Fredrick Conley, who played the role of the harassed Soldier and is the sexual assault response coordinator for the 412th TEC.
When the term "Best Warrior" is tossed around, it's easy to imagine Soldiers being tested on rifle marksmanship, physical fitness and board presentation. SHARP knowledge is often overlooked in the mix of what makes up a complete Soldier. If forgotten, however, harassment and assault can destroy a unit.
"We operate as a team," said Jackson. "The trust, the morale, it all goes to waste, and then the Soldier doesn't want to work. The relationship he has with his peers is violated."