"Sexual assault and sexual harassment rip apart unit trust, discipline and cohesion," said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley.
Throughout military history, it has been demonstrated that units with high degrees of trust, cohesion and esprit de corps can beat units with better equipment and greater numbers, he told the hundreds of senior Army leaders who had gathered Thursday for the Army Professional Forum - SHARP Day in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
A single rape in a unit can "bring that organization to its knees for months," destroying readiness, he said, comparing it directly to a blue-on-blue attack.
In addition to eroding readiness, sexual assault is just plain wrong and has no place in the Army, he said. Everyone has a fundamental right to feel secure in his or her person. "It's the essence of our Constitution which we swore we'd die to protect," he said.
With his own remarks, Army Secretary Eric Fanning opened the conference with much the same message, extolling the value of Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) education and training.
"The culture of prevention must be adopted, understood, and demonstrated by and through all of our Soldiers," he said. "At [Headquarters, Department of the Army] we talk about initiatives, but men and women in the field often lead the way, and headquarters needs to catch policy up with what is already working."
In his remarks, Gen. Milley highlighted three ways the Army could reduce the numbers of sexual assaults and prevent instances of sexual harassment.
"This is Milley talking, it's my own view, but if we can do those three things, we'll knock down the numbers [of sexual offenses] big time and fast," he said.
First, he said, leaders should be held accountable for the actions of their troops, particularly if there's a pattern of misbehavior that's not being corrected.
He cited the large numbers of sexual assaults that occur on post between the hours of 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., particularly in the barracks and on weekends.
Company commanders and noncommissioned officers should monitor activity on their post, especially during the time periods when the risk for misbehavior is at its highest.
"You own the barracks and the installation," he said. "If there's some reg preventing you from doing that, give me a call."
Second, rules that regulate the consumption of alcohol should be enforced.
Alcohol is involved in a sizeable percentage of sexual assault cases, Milley noted. The majority of Soldiers are in their late teens and 20s, and some are prone to high-risk behaviors. That's a recipe for disaster.
"If you pump enough alcohol in your veins, you're going to go stupid fast," he advised.
Instead, all of that youthful energy should be channeled into productive activities.
Third, the buddy team concept can be effective Army-wide.
Buddy teams are already standard at Ranger School and within the Ranger regiment, Milley said.
"You're your brother's or sister's keeper," he explained. "It's not just a saying. It's enforced at small unit levels."
Among the other speakers who offered ideas for reducing the numbers of sexual assaults was Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, who suggested that NCOs are in the best position to monitor the behavior of the Soldiers they're tasked with leading.
At every installation he visits, he said, he tries to include a call at a SHARP training event. In his opinion, role-playing engages the troops the most. A mock bar training scenario in Korea, he recalled, really got Soldiers discussing what the bystanders should be doing during an assault as well as the other players directly involved.
While there is no shortage of tragic stories, he said, there are also uplifting stories of things that have gone right, such as that of the two Soldiers outside of Fort Drum, New York, who witnessed a man drugging a woman with intent to sexually assault her. The NCOs, he said, took action, and the perpetrator was apprehended.
Monique Ferrell, the SHARP director, said that hearing actual accounts from sexual assault and sexual harassment survivors can strike a chord with Soldiers in ways that a simple training module might not.
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)