WEST POINT, NY -- U.S. Military Academy upper-class cadets undergo four Leader Challenges a year in support of the Cadet Character Development Program and recently went through their third LC and the first-ever SHARP-centric LC, 'Lingering Doubt,' here Jan. 25, 2018.
The Leader Challenge is a program designed at the U.S. Military Academy and is used as a method of developing leaders as part of a profession-wide effort to improve learning and leader development. Upper-class cadets in all 144 U.S. Corps of Cadets platoons are engaged in difficult leadership decisions as described by a junior officer or cadet who actually experienced the situation.
Cadets listen to the experiences through video interviews and form small-group conversations with Army professionals and cadet facilitators to discuss the situation to enhance their understanding of ethical leadership.
Cadets also go through 'starburst,' four rounds of small-group conversations, with each round having a new huddle managed by a different facilitator.
"'Lingering Doubt' presents a former cadet (Class of 2016), who speaks about her sexual assault as a Soldier (at her previous duty station) prior to coming to West Point," said Lt. Col. Raymond Kimball, director of the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning. "The Soldier talks about how she initially coped with the assault and how she eventually got help while a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy. The intent of 'Lingering Doubt' is to get cadets to engage in conversation about the complexities of the topic rather than communicate a specific answer or requirement."
The cadets viewed the Soldier's interview video in three or four sections and discussed each section for less than 10 minutes.
In the first section, cadets heard the Soldier describe what happened when she went to dinner at the mess hall with a male Soldier from her own barracks. She did not know him personally, but knew he lived in the same barracks in a room below hers, and she saw him every day after work. She had to be at work at 5 a.m. the following morning and didn't expect it to be a late night.
After dinner, it was decided they would grab some beers and watch a movie in his room because they both had something to celebrate; he made it through his selection of Special Forces, and she was about to enter the U.S. Military Academy. They sat on two chairs in his room and started watching a movie. After the movie, he asked her if she would like a shot. She was still thinking of her early call in the morning, and it was getting late.
She went into the restroom and when she came out, the shots were already poured, and she took the shot. That was the last thing she can remember before waking up on a bare mattress, naked, and he was sitting on a chair fully clothed. She had to retrieve her clothes from the top of the refrigerator.
The Soldier said that she had no idea what happened and described feeling that this was such an awkward, and embarrassing, situation.
This part of the video ends and the cadets began to talk about what they just heard with questions from facilitators about what they would have done if they were in the same situations.
Some cadets thought the Soldier knew she had to be at work early, and maybe she should have refused the shot; others thought she was drunk, and some thought that she had no reason not to trust him, but she did not have a reason to trust him either and others thought that he must have drugged her shot.
In the rest of the video, the cadets learn of the Soldier's emotional feelings, how she dressed and ran upstairs to her room and kept saying she could not remember anything and didn't know what happened to her. Her roommate simply reminded her that she would be late for work.
The Soldier never had much contact with the male Soldier and described wanting to forget the situation. She thought about going to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and emailed them a few times, but decided not to go through with it each time. Her reasoning was that if she couldn't remember what happened, then how could she talk about what happened? She decided that she should just try to forget the whole thing.
After her plebe year at USMA, the Soldier was assigned to attend the SHARP Military Individual Advanced Development, which she said, "hit me in the stomach that I have to sit and listen to this stuff. Every day I was thinking about maybe I should say something,"
During her junior year, she became her company's Cadet Against Sexual Harassment and Assault representative. That is when she finally decided to report her sexual assault, some three years after the fact and filed an unrestricted report.
She did not expect them to find anything on the investigation considering all the time that passed, she never went to the hospital so there was no forensic evidence, and she never said anything to anyone.
Her USMA SARC began an investigation, which took roughly eight months to complete. Finally, she received notification from the Criminal Investigation Division that the case had been found on charges of aggravated sexual assault; however, the Soldier had left the Army while he was under investigation.
The result from the investigation was shocking to her, and it was certainly a learning experience.
"I wish I would have trusted myself sooner because it definitely took a lot to go through that process," she said. "Most people, especially my prior command, were incredibly surprised when I initially shared my story. They never suspected that it would have happened to me. I was met with an incredible amount of support from anyone I chose to share my story with."
In the aftermath, the Soldier described how the Army's approach to SHARP changed since her assault.
"Overall, the Army's approach to SHARP has changed in that the training model has gone from large, battalion-size events to more personal-level training," she noted.
Due to the improved training model and slowly changing culture, the numbers of reporting sexual harassment and assault throughout the U.S. Army have increased.
"The overall culture has significantly shifted, creating a space where people are comfortable coming forward," she added.