CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - Freshly deployed to the Arabian Gulf and greater Levant region in support of Operation Spartan Shield, the 28th Infantry Division takes its mission seriously and reminds its soldiers of the importance of remaining mission focused. More than 100 division soldiers participated in the first of a series of Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) trainings, at Camp Arifjan, March 19.

The Division's SHARP program is important to its ability to maintain mission readiness and focus throughout the deployment.

Capt. Megan Welch, victim advocate for the 28th will conduct several planned SHARP trainings for Division soldiers during their time in the Middle East.

"We are planning from two to three quarterly trainings, with a four-hour block of training for all sergeants and above, as well as a SHARP Stand Down training for everyone in Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion," said Welch. "Our annual SHARP training will also be conducted in the third or fourth quarter."

Welch explained that she enjoys helping people and is enthusiastic about providing prevention training, and promoting readiness.

"A couple of commands ago, they actually 'volunteered' me to go to the training," said Welch. "I found that it's something that I am passionate about, and I have continued it ever since 2012."

Welch has been a credentialed SHARP victim advocate (VA) for the past six years through the National Organization for Victim Assistance, a civilian organization that is recognized both DoD-wide and among all civilian advocacy centers. The seven-week SHARP Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC)/VA Career course gave her an understanding of the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment, and helped her to become an effective victim advocate.

She explained the correlation between unit readiness, mission-focus, and a strong SHARP program.

"The SHARP program has a direct impact on helping to maintain unit readiness," said Welch. "When SHARP incidents occur, it undermines the morale of the unit. It affects good order and discipline, and it directly impacts mission readiness by taking the soldiers out of the fight. It also causes some loss of unit cohesion and can affect morale in the workplace."

The Army's SHARP program emphasizes the importance of intervention, action, and motivation in stopping incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The acronym for Intervene, Act and Motivate (I. A.M.) STRONG is the Army's campaign to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault by engaging all soldiers in preventing sexual harassment and assault incidents before they occur.

According to Welch, the division has zero tolerance for sexual assault or sexual harassment, and endeavors to ensure every soldier receives face-to-face training.

"Our command is very serious about dealing with incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault. These types of behaviors are not tolerated," said Welch. "If more soldiers report these incidents and help eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault, our Army will be better for it."

Army values are quite relevant according to Welch. As a band of brothers and sisters, placing mission first, never accepting defeat, never quitting, and never leaving a fallen comrade, soldiers are encouraged to become aware, and key into threats to stop situations before they become sexual assault or harassment problems.

Staying actively engaged and ensuring their work areas are free of obscene gestures, language, and behaviors puts soldiers on the front lines in the war against sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The program inspires soldiers to stand up for one another, do what's right, and have the courage to speak up. Soldiers gain an understanding that their silence and lack of action can become an endorsement of unethical or unprofessional behavior, and thus set a standard that should not be tolerated. The program teaches soldiers how to maintain a culture of teamwork and motivation that takes action to prevent and denounce sexual misconduct.

Welch encourages all soldiers at every rank to step up and take on a leadership role in stopping incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

"Soldiers can make a difference where they work - no matter their rank. Every service member is a leader within their organization," said Welch. "It is up to us to make sure that we are treating people with the dignity and respect that they deserve, and that we police up our ranks and say 'No.' These types of behaviors, with regard to sexual harassment and sexual assault are unacceptable."

The SHARP motto, "Not in our Army. Together, this we'll defend." creates a compelling atmosphere and awareness for all soldiers that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment or assault in the U.S. Army.