By T. Anthony BellAugust 22, 2014
FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 21, 2014) -- A noncommissioned officer/instructor leans over the shoulder of Pvt. Green as she takes a test, getting within a whisker's length of her cheek despite the presence of a subordinate NCO and other military trainees in the room.
"Damn she smells good,'" he thinks to himself, validating a lustful interest and possibly signaling other intentions. Deciding to act on his urges, he casually dismisses the junior NCO and others from the room. Then, he sexually assaults the young, female Soldier.
Fortunately, this graphic situation was only a well-portrayed reenactment -- complete with dimmed lights, voiceovers and dramatic performances -- and it achieved the desired result. The gripping tension and awestruck silence was palpable among the roughly 60 audience members who were in attendance for the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention NCO Professional Development training event Aug. 13 at Ball Auditorium.
Astound and educate were the missions of the SHARP session, said one of its coordinators.
"We wanted to engage the senior leadership with (unfiltered, thought-provoking situations that) focused on career-ending decisions," said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Lason, sexual assault response coordinator, 59th Ordnance Brigade, the organization that sponsored the production.
The training -- part of a Department of Defense and Army push to curb sexual crimes within the ranks -- introduced two vignettes that were realistic, straightforward and factually-based. Those ingredients did their job of stirring emotion and prompting serious discussion, said Sgt. Maj. Arlene Horne, CASCOM career counselor and audience member.
"The training was very relevant and real," she said. "I liked the portrayals because they actually drove the points home. It was thought-provoking and really made you think that this could be happening right here in our formations."
Although the script is centered on a well-respected and accomplished NCO and his sexual transgressions in an institutional Army environment, it also conveys how devastating sexual crimes are to victims, how detrimental it is to perpetrators and why much of it is preventable. In reference to the latter, Lason said more than one person could have intervened on behalf of Pvt. Green.
"The NCO was following this continuum of behavior," said Lason, noting his previous actions were evident to his peers prior to the assault. "There were leaders right there in the vignette who did nothing. The whole idea was to look at the perpetrator and the individuals along the way who could have done something but didn't."
After the sexual assault takes place, the NCO warns the Soldier against disclosure and she sobbingly agrees. Lason said it illustrated the measure of influence NCOs have over trainees, implying it could be part of the reason victims don't come forward.
"That was to emphasize how much power we have over these Soldiers and how they perceive us," said Lason. "Not all NCOs understand that." On the other hand, "Some of them understand it very well and they use that against the Soldier."
The second vignette followed the NCO as he victimizes yet another Soldier before getting caught, tried in a military court and sent off in handcuffs.
Following each vignette, NCOs were provided opportunities to voice their opinions about the actions of each character. Interest was high, with a number of command sergeants major taking the lead. One of them, Command Sgt. Maj. Clifton Johnson, said the perpetrator was someone who thought he was invincible.
"You heard all the things that young man had done," said the Logistics NCO Academy commandant in reference to the NCOs achievements that were noted earlier in the vignette. "The Army says, 'That's Rocky Balboa … that's a great leader' because he has all of those accolades behind his name. But he became complacent and let all that go to his head. The minute you let your guard down is when the end result will be failure -- every time."
Johnson added that superiors and peers need to shoulder the burden of leadership and step in when negative indicators are apparent.
"You need the intestinal fortitude -- it doesn't matter who you are -- to check those individuals because if you don't check them, they're going to do something stupid," he said.
According to the SHARP program, at least one third of sexual assault victims were harassed before a sexual crime was committed.
The campaign against sexual crimes is the Army's No. 1 priority. It emphasizes a total leadership focus, and training and education at every level of command down to the lowest ranks to bring an end to a persistent problem. As a result of recent efforts, the Army has seen a 51-percent increase in reported sexual assault cases. That may sound bad in one respect, but Lason said it can be viewed in another way that's more hopeful.
"You can look at it as if more assaults are occurring," he said, "but I don't think that's true. People are learning more and reporting more, in my opinion. It's a notable difference from when the SHARP program moved into high gear a few years ago. Now that it has a huge spotlight on it, we're making some very large leaps forward."
The SHARP program is continuing to ramp up, according to Army news reports. As part of a pilot program, 11 new resource centers are being opened at Army installations across the United States. Response coordinators will have a dedicated academy that will offer extended training later this year, and there is consideration for a SHARP military occupational specialty.
For more news and information about the Army SHARP program, visit www.preventsexualassault.army.mil.