CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Soldiers from across the U.S. Central Command area of operations gathered at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to attend a certification course for the Army's Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program to kick off the new year focused on the Army's number one priority - preventing sexual harassment and assault within its ranks.
The 28 Soldiers in the class traveled from across the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater)'s footprint including Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait to attend the two-week training course in order to be certified as victim advocates and SHARP educators for their individual units.
A study released in December by the Department of Defense stated that reports of sexual assaults in the military were up eight percent over the previous year.
Though the number of reported incidents increased, SHARP specialists say that the rise in reports can directly link back to the education and encouragement of Soldiers to report these crimes so that the perpetrators could be held accountable for their actions.
"I look at it as the education is reaching our lowest ranks," said Sgt. 1st Class Dontavious Seales, sexual assault response coordinator and SHARP program trainer. "People understand what sexual assault and sexual harassment is, and the more people are reporting these crimes, the safer we can make our community because the prosecution will rid the perpetrators from our ranks."
The course is set up to educate the students on the SHARP processes, policies and procedures, so that the students can return to their units and educate their Soldiers on the SHARP program and focus on reinforcing reporting options which will assist with identifying issues and building stronger teams.
"We're trying to promote a cultural change," said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Lopez, a medical operations noncommissioned officer with the 4th Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 1st TSC.
Lopez, who traveled from his unit stationed in Afghanistan, also stressed the importance of changing the culture of the Army one Soldier at a time, stating, "We're not going to win the battle overnight, but over time, the goal is to promote a safe and secure environment where Soldiers can focus on their mission without worry of a sexual betrayal by their teammates."
"The biggest thing I want to do is personalize what (the SHARP program) is all about." Lopez said that if you're able to personalize a SHARP incident, he hopes that the Soldiers within his brigade will better understand the effects that one incident can have on an entire team.
At the graduation ceremony for the course, Command Sgt. Maj. Terry Burton, the senior enlisted leader for the 13th SC(E) and 1st TSC-Operational Command Post, stressed the importance of the SHARP mission within the Army.
"The SHARP program is a very important mission in maintaining the comprehensive Soldier fitness within our units and also a responsibility of every leader to provide a working environment that is a safe zone and prevents harassment," said Burton. "One assault is one too many. We cannot stop stressing the importance of Soldiers and civilians continually working as a team to remain vigilant in maintaining a professional atmosphere where sexual harassment and assault are not tolerated.
"Leaders are the first line of defense, the force behind the fight against sexual harassment and assault, this fight is indefinite," he continued. "Sharp is imperative to keeping our units ready and resilient. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are inconsistent with Army values. These behaviors violate the bonds of trust between our band of brothers and sisters in arms, and threaten unit cohesion."