ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- It is said that no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible. While the expression certainly gives way to contemplation, much like the emphasis placed on the U.S. Army's Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Program (SHARP), it speaks heavily to the weight and importance of accountability.
For leaders throughout the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), it is that acute awareness of the roles both accountability and responsibility play in ensuring SHARP never becomes little more than cliché, that makes their collective voices so important to the U. S. Army's "Not in our ranks. Not in our formations" charge.
Steadfast in their commitment to that charge, Col. Wendy L. Rivers, Commander U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command (USISEC), Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Col. Federica King, former Director, Central Technical Support Facility (CTSF), Fort Hood, Texas, used a recent visit to the CECOM and Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) community, as an opportunity to share with SHARP-Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) Program Manager, Tracy Marshall, and CECOM Public affairs, their views on SHARP challenges and the way ahead.
Col. Rivers began the discussion with a battery of thought-provoking questions. "What is SHARP? Is it just an acronym? Is it something we've gotten use to or something that when you reflect on it, is just training after training after training," she asked rhetorically. "No, SHARP is sexual harassment and sexual assault, and it is here to stay until it's out of our formations, out of our cubicles, out of our hospitals, out of our hotels and out of our bedrooms."
Recently invited to speak at a Sexual Assault and Awareness Prevention (SAAPM) community event at the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center (RWBAHC), Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the USISEC Commander gave an overview of her presentation. "One question I asked of the audience was 'are we our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper.' The answer is of course we are. We have to engage and understand that that space in which we each individually occupy, is our space. Central to that is that it cannot be overtaken without consent," she said.
The ISEC commander's stance is clearly aligned with the position taken by the Department of the Army. According to Army regulation AR 600, Chapters 7 and 8, Acts of sexual harassment are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Sexual assault is a criminal offense that has no place in the Army. It degrades mission readiness by devastating the Army's ability to work effectively as a team. Army leadership at all levels will be committed to creating and sustaining an environment conducive to maximum productivity and respect for human dignity.
For Col. King, the importance of the SHARP discussion is something that cannot be downplayed nor dismissed. "SHARP sits right next to safety. It's everybody's business. Any incident, any infraction -- not only erodes the internal trust of the individual, but when one individual is bothered by or affected by a SHARP incident, it actually takes out an entire workforce," she said. "This means that the individual has to have the inherent trust that everyone and anyone in the organization, will do something about it. Yes, it is the commander's or the director's responsibility. However, the individual has to be safe in his or her formation, and around their peers. They have to know this is something that even if the commander or director is not there on the day something happens to an individual, that individual knows he or she is going to be given the same level of attention -- the same level of concern in stamping out this unacceptable behavior, as anything else. They have to know that their leaders have their back."
King is not alone in her declaration, as Army policy dictates leadership will use training and awareness to minimize incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault; to promote the sensitive case handling of clients and victims of sexual assault; to offer victim assistance and counseling; to hold those who commit sexual offenses accountable. It further emphasizes that all victims of a sexual offense will be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect.
Directing her attention to the impact sexual harassment and sexual assault can have on Army readiness, Rivers reflected on her message to the RWBAHC audience. "We talked about how the hospital -- the same type of formation that it would be in any sustainment unit or any signal or cyber unit, is another place in which we cannot afford to have sexual harassment and sexual assault occur," she said.
"The execution of our job is quite important. So, this type of behavior heavily impacts on our readiness capabilities, and makes it impossible for us to be where we're supposed to be in terms of being able to support the Warfighter, and sustain readiness."
Commenting on the depth of the discussion lead by Rivers and King, SHARP-APG Program Manager Tracy Marshall said, "Having these two senior leaders to make the time to sit down and have this type of discussion is a very welcomed opportunity. Their input and insight is invaluable. There is a place for this type of discussion any time of the year -- especially because of the profound impact sexual harassment and sexual assault can have on a victim's health and well-being, as well as unit cohesiveness and the Army's ability to meet mission requirements."
Unwavering in their commitment to use their voices to further educate and bring about greater awareness of SHARP-related issues, and concerns, King and Rivers shared a few parting words.
"Everybody has to be a part of this. It's a team effort, and we are 'The Force Behind the Fight' ensuring that there is zero behavior like this in our workplace and within our ranks. So, until we get to zero, we have to continue to fight," said Rivers. "So, SHARP isn't just training that is repetitive. It is a mindset, and it's everybody's responsibility…no matter what rank, gender, creed or color you are. It's everybody's responsibility."
Added King, "Everybody is accountable. The commander and the director can set the policy, but until everybody knows that SHARP-related issues are his or her responsibility, the organization can't get to that place it wants to go. It's a 'force multiplier' -- meaning you have to have people in every formation, in every cubicle, in every building and every point of the installation, rowing the same way. The idea is to not just see the movement, but to clearly see the movement forward."