WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 31, 2016) -- "It's not easy to look into the eyes of a Soldier who may have been violated," said Acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy, speaking from an experience when he was a young officer.

Murphy spoke during an event in the Pentagon courtyard, March 31, to kick off Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, which is observed throughout April.

As a young lieutenant nearly 20 years ago, Murphy said, he had to assist a private first class who had been assaulted. He had to explain to her how the reporting process worked and what resources were available to help.

"We all know this is a cancer that we must root out by our words and our deeds," he said about sexual assault, adding that Soldiers and Army civilians must be "leaders of character, 24-7."

The good news is that the Army is making progress, Murphy said. Incidents are down, he said, while people are more inclined to report assaults. He noted that more personnel are receiving training on how to respond, but additional actions are needed.

The battle against sexual assault will not be over until it is completely eradicated from the force, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey.

Dailey said it may sound like total elimination is asking a lot, "but we are the U.S. Army and we can do anything we decide to do."

Sexual assault and harassment are undisciplined, unprofessional and inconsistent with Army values, he said.

Many around the Army are already working hard to stop what he called a "diabolical internal threat." He said "Many are giving it all -- blood, sweat and tears for this unbelievably important mission."

SARC OF THE YEAR

Sgt. 1st Class Raquel R. Mendoza was recognized at the ceremony as the Army's Sexual Assault Response Coordinator of the Year. She serves as SARC for the 4th Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Mendoza said she has assisted a number of victims of sexual assault. "I understand the loneliness" that assault causes, she said, explaining that she has empathy with victims because she herself is a survivor.

It's important not only to help the victims cope, but to help their families as well, Mendoza said, because sexual assault affects entire families.

CSA: ASSAULT AFFECTS READINESS

Making progress in eliminating sexual assault is not good enough, said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. "Progress doesn't matter in war," he said. "It matters that you win."

Milley said sexual assault is a readiness issue. Along with equipment, personnel and training, he said readiness depends on important intangibles such as good order and discipline, cohesion and trust.

"We know through 10,000 years of military history that cohesive organizations -- cohesive units -- do extraordinarily well in combat," he said, "even if they don't have all the people they're supposed to have or the most modern equipment."

Sexual assault "rips apart" the intangibles of an organization, he said. "It absolutely destroys trust."

Bottom line is commanders and noncommissioned officers must be willing to enforce a standard of no tolerance for sexual assault or harassment, Milley said.

It's important that all Soldiers be treated with dignity and respect, he emphasized.

He said there is a wide variety of programs in the Army with the fundamental purpose of changing the culture of the organization.

Two of those programs were recognized at the ceremony.

INNOVATION AWARDS

Sgt. Joshua James Kemp of the Kentucky National Guard was presented the Guard's Innovation Award for Sexual Assault Prevention.

Kemp put together a design that has been placed on a number of Kentucky Guard vehicles to advertise the sexual assault safe help line. The design depicts three Soldiers, the website and the help line phone number. The design has been transferred onto a "vinyl wrap" that can be "shrink-wrapped" onto the side of vehicles, he said.

Members of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command, known as CASCOM, and the Training and Doctrine Command Mobile team were presented the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Innovation Award for designing an app for mobile phones. The app provides users instant access to emergency numbers and help lines.

"If in a situation, just push the button," said Matt MacLaughlin Jr., senior instructional design specialist for TRADOC Mobile.

The app was designed when the team was part of CASCOM at Fort Lee, Virginia, in 2012. Since then three members moved to TRADOC headquarters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, and the app is available on the TRADOC Mobile website. The app has been adopted by 24 installations that added their own emergency numbers. Most recently the app was adopted by U.S. Army Europe, MacLaughlin said.

The app can not only be used by victims of sexual assault, but by those who witness the crime and want to report it.

In order to eliminate the crime of sexual assault, no one can be a bystander, Dailey said. The stigma for reporting sexual assault must be eliminated, he said.

Only then "One day we will all be able to say: not in my Army, not in my squad," he concluded.