WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- Like all Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Anthony Ciccariello, Sgt. Evan Lipp and Sgt. James Smith attend annual Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training.

All three admitted they initially doubted the training would ever be of much use to them. But during a SHARP-sponsored panel Thursday at the Pentagon, they discussed how they relied on that training when they witnessed a possible sexual assault incident late last year.

The incident occurred in October 2016 at a bar in Watertown, New York, near Fort Drum, where the three men are stationed. Lipp said the three were having a relaxed conversation over a beer when he spotted something very suspicious.

Two civilian men who looked to be in their early 20s were seated on a sofa. Sitting between them was a woman who appeared to be in her early 30s. Lipp said she looked like she was drugged and unaware of what was going on. Her eyes were rolled back. The men had their hands up her skirt.

That's when Lipp decided to act. He first alerted the bouncer, but the bouncer refused to intervene and instead suggested the three on the couch were probably just friends. Lipp then told his fellow Soldiers, Ciccariello and Smith. Together, they located the woman's friend who told them she didn't recognize the two men on the couch.

At that point, Ciccariello and Smith escorted the two men outside to a courtesy patrol, uniformed Soldiers who patrol the town as part of their duty.

While the woman opted not to file charges against the men and no arrests were made, Ciccariello believes the SHARP bystander training that he, Lipp and Smith had received had helped them stop a sexual assault in its tracks.

While Ciccariello said he knows he and his fellow Soldiers did the right thing, not everyone agreed. A local newspaper report contained some discrepancies about what happened that evening due to differing accounts from authorities.

"Some people in the community were very supportive, while others called us liars," he said.

Fortunately, the Army and their unit backed them up, Smith said, and today the three go on SHARP speaking tours to discuss bystander intervention.

HARD TO BE A HERO

It takes guts to intervene as a bystander, said Sharyn Potter, a sociology professor and researcher at the University of New Hampshire.

In her 15 years of researching bystander intervention, she's heard plenty of stories of backlash, from ostracism to threats of retaliation. She said it's easier for someone of higher rank or social status who committed the harassment or assault to threaten someone who has intervened.

The three Soldiers who intervened said they did not get physical with the two men, and Potter agreed with their actions, adding there are subtler ways to intervene effectively as a bystander.

For instance, if sexual harassment is occurring in a dark, loud club, something as simple as turning on a light or turning down the music can get the attention of others, she said. Requesting the assistance of the club's staff might also be effective, though it wasn't in the case at Watertown.

Finally, she said, the authorities should be the only ones to use physical force, if it's necessary.

While these three Soldiers effectively intervened, Potter said people who witness such incidents often choose not to get involved. She said she hopes that, just as the Army has educated its Soldiers in a drive to change its culture for the better, society will one day wake up to the dangers of sexual assault and harassment.

Although the three Soldiers faced backlash for their actions, all agreed they would do it again because it was the right thing to do.

Lipp said to this day he worries about the possibility of those two men going on to molest other women. "How many have they molested?" he said. "Six, maybe 10, 20?"

"Would you want what happened to that lady to happen to your wife, your sister or your mother?" Ciccariello asked, encouraging others to intervene.

(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)