ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- In support of its annual SHARP Professionals Stand Down Day, SHARP subject matter experts from across Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) recently came together at the Mallette Training Facility for a full day of in depth conversations and information exchange highlighting a variety of policy and procedure issues central to SHARP programs and practices.
According to SHARP Victim Advocate, Michcell L. Shoultz, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), the annual stand down serves a number of purposes.
"At least once a year we try to bring everyone together to talk about what our issues are in our daily work, the skills required, changes in the SHARP program, and all the information we need to stay up to date and to provide the best services possible…not just in response, but also in prevention. The stand down is a great way to ensure that we keep our skills honed," she said.
Col. Seena Tucker, Chief of Staff, CECOM, used the occasion to acknowledge the professionals and SHARP program coordinators for their service and participation.
"Thank you for your support and commitment to the program," tucker said. "Don't be quiet. This is a day to ask questions--to learn and to feed off of each other because collectively, we can ensure that this program is the best program in the Army."
For SHARP professionals, being the best means confronting those issues and topics that may not be pleasant, and then working toward finding the appropriate resolution. This approach aligns solidly with their ongoing commitment to prevent sexual harassment and assault and to ensure a superior quality of care for victims of either.
In his welcoming remarks, Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) Commanding General, thanked the professionals for their support and participation in the SHARP effort, pointing to how over the years different forums that allow for greater discussions on sexual harassment and sexual assault-related issues have evolved.
"Interestingly enough, we look at how topical the subject is today, we recognize that sexual harassment and sexual assault, is not only something that needs to be in the conversation of our military, but a national conversation.
"Part of it is that we have made the shift where once upon a time, these things were not brought up," said Wins. "People were uncomfortable about identifying it for what it was or what it is. But fast-forward to today, and we've established forums, we've established training. We've established avenues and venues for these things to occur. So the bottom line is that we recognize that no person--male or female should be subjected to sexual harassment or sexual assault. Not only in the military, but across our country."
Speaking to her experience while serving in Kuwait, Tracy Marshall, Program Manager, SHARP Resource Center, APG, gave further insight into how SHARP has evolved.
"The SHARP program has grown leaps and bounds," she said. "In 2003 in Kuwait, we came to realize that we had a lot of issues in our formations. We were running to the bunkers because of the SCUD missiles, and if you made it to the bunkers, that was awesome. However, we noticed that there were a lot of sexual assaults trending at that time. Individuals in full MOPP5 gear, were actually taking advantage of their Battle Buddies."
Marshall's comments, much like the SHARP theme, 'Not in Our Army. From Buy-in to Ownership' serve as stark reminders of the ongoing need to ensure conversations about sexual assault and sexual harassment remain on the front burner. The SHARP Professionals Stand Down Day was one way of ensuring that it does, and throughout the day, allowed the participants to engage in topics such as learning sexual assault response team roles and responsibilities; processing a sexual harassment complaint; submitting required reports to the command team; improving annual training content and function; and receiving updates on the Army-wide SHARP program. The Stand Down also gave sexual assault survivors a chance to tell their stories --firsthand stories that drive home the profound importance of sexual harassment and sexual assault awareness.
"We hadn't been aware of what was occurring in our formations," Marshall said. "We really didn't know what was going on or who the culprit was. We couldn't believe that it was one of our own. Back then, a program was developed…Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR). At that time, under the SAPR program, we had some challenges. I can tell you that when they did apprehend the person, less than one percent of the individuals were prosecuted. Now, under the new program that we have, which is the Headquarters Department of the Army SHARP Program, the program has led to volumes of people coming forward--as far as reporting. What that says is that they trust the program. They trust that the leadership is going to do something about it."
At the stand down, the presence of the subject matter expert panel's Sexual Assault Response Team, made it all too clear that the CECOM and APG leadership are committed to doing what they can to ensure the right people are in place to handle any issues or concerns regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault policies and procedures.
Panel members included Neslie Etheridge, Director, Equal Employment Opportunity, CECOM; Cpt. Robert Taylor, Chief of Military Justice; Cpt. Andrew Gross, Special Victim Counsel; SAIC Briggon Bobb, CID; Lt. Col. Arleigh vonSeggern, APG Garrison Chaplain; and Antoinetta Saunders-Gauth, Family Advocacy Program Manager.
As the Stand Down came to a close, it was clear that the forum had provided the professionals an opportunity for a healthy exchange of ideas and deeper conversation about a topic that is of widespread concern across DoD and the civilian sector.
"Sexual harassment and sexual assault erodes the fiber of good order and discipline," Wins said. "It erodes the fiber of team work. It erodes the fiber of trust and confidence that should exist within an organization. From my standpoint as a commander, and I am sure I would say for all the senior leaders on this post and throughout the Army, it's not something that we will tolerate. Coming from a leadership role, I know you all understand that and I know you all make every effort to communicate that throughout the workforce, throughout those who are in or out of uniform so that they understand."
Representatives from U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, (RDECOM), U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors (PEO-IEWS), U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC), 450th Civil Affairs Bn., Army Contracting Command (ACC), 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Explosives Command (20th CBRNE), CECOM Integrated Logistics Support Center (ILSC), Army Materiel Systems Analysis Activity (AMSAA), Army Public Health Center (APHC), (Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense (MIRICD), U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, (CERDEC), CECOM Software Engineering Center (SEC), and the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense) Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) were among those participating in the stand down initiative.