FORT DRUM, New York - In recent years, the subject of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military has been a serious topic of discussion from the lowest levels of the armed forces all the way to the highest reaches of government. The focus of eliminating sexual assault and harassment from the military's ranks has resulted in numerous additional training requirements and has had Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) teams exploring innovative methods to reach Soldiers in an effort to change the culture within the Army.
The SHARP team for Fort Drum, New York's U.S. Army Medical Department Activity (MEDDAC) aims to make an impact by thinking outside the box and discovering unique ways of addressing sexual assault and getting Soldiers and civilian employees involved in the process.
From creating a survivor support quilt to coordinating a self-defense course, the Fort Drum MEDDAC SHARP team has built awareness through participation within the MEDDAC staff.
"The MEDDAC SHARP team uses various avenues and awareness events, outside of SHARP, to get the word out," said Jacqueline Fox, the Fort Drum MEDDAC sexual assault response coordinator. "We are constantly building a rapport with the Soldiers and family members, which is vital."
Recently, Fox and her team coordinated for a guest speaker to talk with MEDDAC leaders about her story and her ideas on how leadership can get involved in helping to eliminate sexual violence from the ranks.
Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Simon, a public affairs noncommissioned officer with Fort Drum's 27th Public Affairs Detachment, survived a sexual assault as a young Soldier and now uses her experience to help encourage others to do what is right.
"One of the first things I realized when I first started out as a SHARP rep is that SHARP doesn't matter to people until it has a face," she said. "If they can't visualize somebody that's been through this before, they have a hard time internalizing why it's important."
Simon became a SHARP representative in 2012, and it wasn't long until she realized it takes more than reading from premade slides to get her message across fellow service members.
"I realized you have to give it a face; you have to make it matter to people," the Howell, Michigan native said. "Whether they know you very well or not, seeing someone and hearing their story firsthand really makes a big difference in how well people internalize the SHARP program."
During her discussion with MEDDAC leadership, Simon stressed how important it is for leaders to encourage their Soldiers to speak up when they see something wrong.
When asked what advice she would give to young Soldiers, Simon said, "I would tell them, do not be afraid to call your friends on their B.S. If you see something or if you hear something, just say something."
Another way the MEDDAC SHARP team is raising awareness is through their "Walk to Stomp Out Sexual Violence" step challenge. During the month of October, MEDDAC employees tracked their daily steps and reported it to the SHARP team in an effort to reach a goal of 35 million total steps.
"The challenge serves a twofold purpose," said Staff Sgt. Damon McKenzie, MEDDAC's victim advocate. "One, it gets the participants up and moving when we are headed into the cold months and leaving the cold months. Additionally, it is designed to get people to talk about sexual harassment and assault."
McKenzie went on to say when people see others walking around, it generally drove the question as to why.
"This gives the average person a chance to explain why they are doing it, which raises awareness of the program," the Jacksonville, Florida native said. "One of the biggest impacts is seeing leaders from the organization out engaging about SHARP related topics during the challenge, encouraging the staff to discuss ways to prevent harassment and assault."
By the time the challenge was over, the MEDDAC staff had surpassed the goal reaching 35,976,854 steps, walking an estimated 16 thousand miles. Leading the charge was Patricia Starr, a MEDDAC administrative assistant, who logged 1,153,290 steps and 513 miles during the challenge.
This was the second time the SHARP team spearheaded the stomp challenge and they plan to continue the event every April and October for the foreseeable future.
Fox hopes her team's initiatives change the focus of sexual assault from response to prevention, a move that falls in line with Army SHARP's 2019 theme of "Shaping a culture of trust."