By Stephen P. Kretsinger Sr., PQC contractor with the U.S. Army Combined Arms CenterJanuary 22, 2016
General David G. Perkins, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, visited with students of the U.S. Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP Academy at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Thursday, Jan. 14.
During the visit, Perkins discussed the importance of the students' positions as victim advocates (VAs) and sexual assault response coordinators (SARCs) and, the emphasis the Army places on facing the sexual harassment and assault menace to Soldier and unit readiness.
"Don't confuse what you are for and what you do," Perkins told the students. "What you do is the title you hold. What you are for is to protect the integrity of the profession by maintaining trust among our Soldiers."
Trust and what it means to the Army as a profession was a recurring theme during the discussion with the general.
The keystone of our profession is trust," Perkins said, adding that if sexual harassment or assault goes unaddressed within a unit, it sends the message that trust between Soldiers is not important.
"Nothing breaks down trust quicker than being harassed or -- God forbid -- assaulted."
"If you are a true profession, you are a self-policing, self-correcting profession," Perkins continued. "SHARP is a part of that process. If someone is out of line, we are going to self-police them. If someone needs education, we are going to provide it ourselves. We are the stewards of our profession."
Established at Fort Leavenworth in October 2014, the SHARP Academy has three primary missions:
• Educate, train and support highly competent and effective SHARP professionals across all components of the Army
• Develop and implement effective training and education for all Soldiers, Department of the Army Civilians and family members
• Function as a leader in the Army's efforts to build a culture of dignity and respect based on the Army Ethic
To date, the SHARP Academy has graduated 309 students through its classrooms for immediate assignment to battalions and brigades since it began conducting classes on Fort Leavenworth.
"The SHARP Academy is a response to leader development, education and training that you need to support the full-time SHARP professionals out there in the force," said Col. Geoffrey Catlett, director of the SHARP Academy. "We're responsible for ensuring the content is correct, the teaching method is effective and making sure people understand the importance of the SHARP program."
The mission of combating sexual harassment and sexual assault will never be finished, Perkins said. With the large amounts of recruits joining the military every year, the training is a continuous requirement.
"Every year between active duty, Reserve and Guard, we recruit between 100,000 to 120,000 people into the Army," Perkins said. "That's 8,000 to 10,000 a month. They arrive with very little background on SHARP or the Army. So, we have to inculcate them with the Army values and culture."
Perkins added that not solving the SHARP problem completely is vastly different from not taking the issue seriously.
"The problem is never solved," Perkins said." If you recruit 8,000 people every month, the chances are there are going to be some that don't get the message. The Army is taking this on as seriously as any other threat facing our nation."
Additionally, different levels of leadership require different approaches to SHARP understanding. As Soldiers move through the ranks, they must have additional training to recognize situations and assess trouble within their units.
"If I'm a private in basic training, what I need to know about the SHARP program is different than if I'm an officer in a career course or an NCO at the Sergeants Major Academy," Catlett said. "We have to make sure that training is really tailored to the right audience, and right now it's not. We have to fix that."
The SHARP Academy is always looking to improve its training across the force, and it is currently reviewing lesson plans for all levels of leadership and tailoring it to better fit the appropriate audience.
One new challenge for the SHARP program is the recent issue of gender integration into the Army's combat arms career fields and units. Perkins discussed how the Army is prepared for this historic transition.
"Now as we start to gender integrate our force, we are going to have formations that did not have women in them before -- or at least close contact with women," Perkins said. "We have to properly educate Soldiers as we gender integrate. We did a study and learned the single most important thing to effective gender integration is leadership. If we have challenges as we gender integrate our combat arms, it's going to be because a leader didn't take the appropriate steps he or she was supposed to as a leader and did not follow the Army values."
The Army takes the SHARP mission seriously and has dedicated copious amounts of resources to combat the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment, according to Perkins. The Army is so dedicated to this mission it requires more rigorous class schedules for SHARP professionals than some of its commander's courses.
"We send them (SARCs) here for seven weeks to learn how to prevent and deal with sexual harassment and sexual assault. Brigade and battalion commanders come here for the pre-command course for two weeks," Perkins said. "In comparison, we think commanding a brigade or battalion -- which isn't the easiest thing to do -- is worth a two-week investment. But you're not going to go out and be a SARC unless you've had seven weeks of education. For someone to say the Army isn't taking this seriously either does not understand what the Army's doing, or they just don't want to admit it.
"We've expended a huge amount of physical, emotional and leadership energy on this," Perkins added. "We have a great facility, great leaders and greater experience. We are expending the resources we think are necessary -- not just money and office space, but the time and emphasis on our leaders, SARCs and VAs."