GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Every Soldier going through the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy's Basic Leaders Course attends four hours of Sexual Harassment / Assault Response & Prevention (SHARP) training and must work together in squads to write an essay explaining how they will address SHARP in their units.

"Soldiers need their leaders to guide them in the right direction in order to prevent, intervene and ultimately destroy the acts of sexual assault and sexual harassment within the ranks of the Army," said Spc. Rolando Anderson, assigned to the 615th Military Police Company, 16th MP Brigade, and a recent 7th Army NCOA graduate.

Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is recognized Army-wide in April, but the 7th Army NCOA highlights SHARP initiatives throughout the year.

"Even with all the emphasis we put on awareness and prevention, there are still issues and concerns across our Army," said Command Sgt. Maj. Gregory Smith, 7th Army NCOA commandant. "Even as we make improvements, we can't relax; we have to continue being vigilant so we don't fall back on the progress we've made."

Smith explained that the SHARP essay helps Soldiers take ownership and come up with solutions to improve the SHARP programs, and how they respond to SHARP issues and concerns in their individual units.

He said it's important to have this team project take place at the squad level to encourage sharing of ideas, to receive honest feedback and to discover ways to be more effective with reaching other Soldiers and implementing change.

"The manner in which we conducted our discussions was very open and flowed very well," Anderson said. "We came up with ideas that really meant something to us because we thought of them as a single unit."

"The Soldiers in today's Army are very creative," said Sgt. 1st Class Justina Emmanuel, lead sexual assault response coordinator for 7th Army Training Command. "When you get them involved in something positive, they take ownership and put forth the effort."

As the 7th Army NCOA is a learning environment where Soldiers are held accountable for actions both on and off-duty, the commandant reads all the squads' essays and chooses a winner; that group is recognized at graduation and presented with coins and certificates.

"Sexual assault awareness begins at the lowest level because the junior enlisted are the most vulnerable to it," Anderson said. "The Soldiers that make up the junior-enlisted ranks need to know how to recognize the signs of sexual crimes so that they can become a part of the solution instead of contributing to the issue."

Emmanuel agrees that it's vital to address SHARP at the junior-leader-level, like the 7th Army NCOA's BLC, as Soldiers pick up habits, behaviors and guidance along the way of their Army careers. If team or squad leaders do not take sexual harassment and assault seriously, their Soldiers will not take it seriously.

"Sexual harassment, if left unchecked, may and can lead to sexual assault," said Emmanuel. "If one person has the personal courage to stand up to wrong behavior, chances are they were not alone in their beliefs. Others see it and stand along with them. This is how we achieve cultural change."

SHARP resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
•Bavaria's Helpline - DSN: 314-475-4567 or Commercial: 09641-83-4567
•DoD's Safe Helpline in Europe - DSN: 537-SAFE (7233) or Commercial: 0611-143-537-SAFE (7233)
•Visit www.safehelpline.org.