Mar. 31, 2015 -- SecArmy's remarks at Sexual Assault and Prevention Month ceremony

By John M. McHughApril 1, 2015

Sexual Assault Awareness Prevention Month Ceremony
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

From the Pentagon:

Where I grew up on the Canadian Boarder there's an old saying that says spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush. That's good old north country wisdom that when you think about it speaks about the power of springtime. I'm sure all of us have felt this way. The sun, the birds, we begin to feel rejuvenated, revitalized. And it's really an opportunity for new beginnings.

And that's particularly appropriate here today, as we gather to increase our focus on sexual assault, the prevention of it and to demonstrate all of our, all of your, on-going commitment to meeting that challenge head-on.

Now, all of us know when we talk to groups such as yours that we're preaching to the choir. And that you understand, that as the Chief noted, this really is that kind of thing that eats at the very bedrock upon which this Army was built. It erodes away at the very core values that I suspect, in many of your cases, drew you to raise your right hand and put on that uniform or become an Army civilian in the first place. As you know, sexual assault, sexual harassment shatters good order, it shatters discipline but more than anything else it shatters the lives of soldiers, and our larger Army family.

For all of these reasons and so many more, we've got to do everything we can. And again, as the Chief said, not just in a month period, but day after day, hour after hour and stamp out sexual assault and reprisal. And doing these things, I want you to know, remains as it has been for now more than a year-and-a-half, my top priority as secretary of the Army.

And I know I'm not alone in that pledge. As we've heard from both the Chief and the sergeant major, this is a zero tolerance proposition.

And all of us are as we need to be committed to change. Equally important, we're committed to accountability.

As the sergeant major noted, we can take some pride in the fact that we have much of which to be proud already.

As you know, the data show there's been real progress. The sergeant major mentioned some of those statistics. They're measurable steps in the right direction made particularly over the last two years. Again, as been noted, we've got a very long way to go.

And that's why we're here today. As I said, spring, rejuvenation, recommitment to recommitting ourselves to keeping that good work going that I just mentioned- to seizing the momentum that all of you, through your leadership, through your efforts, have helped to build-uniformed and civilian alike.

There was a great American who knew a little bit about taking on change and challenge. Dr. Martin Luther King once said that "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... That every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

That's what we need today, dedicated individuals. And I would say that describes our charge. And I feel confident it describes you as leaders-dedicated, understanding this will require hard work and sacrifice and a struggle.

Despite the long path we've travelled we can't yet claim success. We can't take a knee because in some ways we're really trying to create a society outside the Army that doesn't exist. We are trying to build an Army where sexual assault, abuse and harassment are just a mere page in our history of many pages and many struggles.

Progress is a great thing, and change is progress's motivator. But we got to be honest, we know that change has its enemies.

Today we are wrestling as an Army with many, many changes, many challenges. Opening previously closed positions and occupational specialties to women, doing so while maintaining our high standards. Doing so in bringing about what we know in the end will be a better Army. Striving to remove as many barriers as we possibly can and allow talented people--regardless of gender, regardless of their background, as the Chief said, to serve in any position for which they are capable of performing to our standards.

And as we open these very new doors and raise the ceilings - as we once more embrace cultural change in those ways, we have to embrace that cultural change and adherence to our SHARP program and adherence to the principal-that if we can't protect one soldier from another soldier, how can we claim to protect a nation.

We have to instill trust and confidence in our soldiers and our civilians so they know they can come forward to leaders like you and when they do they won't be victimized again. They know that their leaders will do the right thing-they'll bring about what this Army has always sought for: justice, equality.

Sergeant Major Dailey said it and it is an exciting moment, "Not in my squad. Not in our Army. We are trusted professionals." So I know all of us will join together, we'll continue to tirelessly and tenaciously focus on the well-being, safety and dignity of our American soldiers and their equally dedicated and invaluable Civilian Corps.

Remember, we came together as an Army to battle the scourge of sexual assault and harassment. And by keeping together we can, we will prevail.

So, in closing, once more thanks for all you've done to bring us on the path this far. Thank you for what we all know will be your continued leadership.

God bless you, God Bless America, and this glorious Army that keeps her free.