ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- "We're strongest when we raise our voices together" is a message that rang loud and clear as CECOM and tenant organizations recently gathered for the 2017 Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) kickoff ceremony on Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland.

Ever committed to service, the installation's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) team of Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and Victim Advocates (VAs) presented the community with a kickoff display that was as firm in its messaging, as it was in spirited applause.

Welcoming the attendees, APG SHARP Program Manager, Tracey Marshall said, "APG does not recognize SAAPM as a one-time deal in April, we do it throughout the year. So, as we posture ourselves for all of our events, we just want to keep in mind that we have to protect our people -- who protect our mission."

Standing tall at the annual event, both military and civilian personnel were unwavering in their allegiance toward efforts aimed at tackling issues and behaviors that compromise Army readiness, and diminish respect. Speaking to the attendees regarding these practices, Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew McCoy, U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) said, "They erode the trust, and trust is the bedrock of the profession. Just to see the commitment and passion within our community as we get after sexual assault and harassment, my hat's off to you not only for your attendance today, but for keeping the profession straight."

The CECOM leader's comments were clearly aligned with those of other SHARP partners and supporters attending the SAAPM recognition event. Among them, guest speaker Luisa Caiazzo, CEO, SARC Inc., APG Deputy to the Garrison Commander Mitchell Jones, and Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Toese Tia Jr. Each took a moment to address the importance of embracing opportunities that speak to the ills and challenges associated with sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Said Caiazzo, "I've been at SARC now for 11 years, and I can tell you that we've had a great relationship with Aberdeen Proving Ground during that time. We actually have a memorandum of agreement in regards to referrals and services. So, we've long worked very closely together and I want to thank you for the work that you all do here."

The guest speaker also added the U.S. Army SHARP Program has made great strides to eliminate sexual assault and sexual harassment. "It's amazing the work that you're doing here because all of our actions big and small have a ripple effect throughout the community. So, everyone that we lead, guide and influence -- everyone that you touch every single day with the work that you're doing, really spreads far and wide--and you don't even know the impact that you're really having. We're modeling healthy behavior by addressing inappropriate conduct, and making a difference by calling people out when they see something, and providing that support," she said. "We're strongest when we raise our voices together. Together we can take action to promote safety, respect and equality to stop sexual violence before it even happens. The good news is that prevention is possible, and it's happening."

The 2017 DoD SAAPM theme, "Protecting Our People Protects Our Mission," strongly mirrors efforts by SHARP-APG to raise sexual assault and sexual harassment awareness throughout the APG community. That awareness also extends itself to both the individual and unit level with regards to prevention.

"I think we've done very well in terms of getting our culture on the right path. As we continue to remind ourselves of the importance of what SHARP is, we have to focus on the importance of education. This is important because we are empowering our junior leaders who are down in the weeds. They're down there seeing those things. It's easy for us to stand up here, but those who are out there--even our DA civilians, we've got eyes everywhere and we want everyone to be empowered and to know that not on our watch, not in our squad, and definitely not in our Army," said Tia.

According to Michcell Shoultz, APG, Installation Lead Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, the hope was to make the SAAPM 2017 kickoff a special event. Thanking those who attended, she stressed the importance of the occasion and led the applause as she turned to Caiazzo. "We're glad that we have you in the community. I feel very fortunate after having spoken to many other posts who do not have the same resource that you provide for us. So, we really appreciate you every day for being there for our clients -- the people that come to us. But today, we thank you for coming out and sharing your thoughts with us."

Closing out the SAAPM kickoff event, Jones added, "I do see a lot of the reports here and I can tell you that APG, you guys -- and this ceremony right here proves that you guys have it right. You're moving in the right direction…we're moving in the right direction. Command Sergeant Major Tia and I are a part of the Garrison…the face of the Garrison, but we are one team. I'm proud to have been invited here. I know we're doing some great things, and we're going to continue to do so."
Led by SHARP Resource Center SARC Shariese Demby, SAAPM kickoff visitors and guests were given a tour of the new SHARP Resource Center. Touch-ups of the facility now underway, grand opening details will be forthcoming.