ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The search for life beyond a small West Virginia town inspired Frank Hughes to enlist in the U.S. Army in the early 1980s. His civilian career after military service led him to serving others and supporting Soldiers.
Hughes, a Human Resources (HR) Specialist for the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity (CMA), grew up in the close-knit community of Moundsville, West Virginia. After college, he was working as an accountant and business office manager when he decided it was time for a change. His new career path was inspired by his father and grandfather.
"Something inside me wanted to get out of the area," Hughes said. "My grandfather served in the Army in WWI, and my dad in the Navy in the Pacific during WWII, so I followed in their footsteps."
His Army career began as a field artillery cannon crewman. While stationed in Germany, Hughes discovered yet another opportunity for career growth.
"I reenlisted into the Ordnance Corps as a power generation mechanic," Hughes said. "I chose it because it was a new military occupational specialty at the time, and I like getting my hands dirty."
He continued his active-duty career for 21 years before retiring as a first sergeant. After a short stint in the private sector, Hughes returned to the U.S. Army. He'd spent the latter part of his uniformed service at the Army's Human Resources Command, so it made sense for him to return to HR work in civilian service to his country.
Hughes' first civilian job in 2005 brought him to APG as an HR specialist for the 16th Ordnance Battalion, where he helped ensure Soldiers understood how to get the career support they needed.
"The major challenges usually revolve around a lack of information, incomplete information or very short deadlines." Hughes said. "I wanted to help Soldiers understand the system and learn what programs work for them."
He said one of the most effective ways he supports Soldiers and civilians dealing with crisis is by simply providing an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on.
"I shut my mouth and open my ears," Hughes said. "I can't help if I don't listen and open myself up to what is being said."
He now provides that support at CMA in the Edgewood Area of APG, which manages storage of the chemical weapon stockpile in Kentucky and Colorado, and assesses and destroys recovered chemical warfare materiel. As an HR specialist, he said he has seen the importance of promoting the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention program, or SHARP. Established in 2012, SHARP is an integrated, proactive Army effort to end sexual harassment and assault within its ranks.
Traditionally, April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, but Hughes says this year's SHARP theme - "Shaping a culture of trust: Protecting our people protects our mission" - will be spotlighted throughout the year. He takes this theme to heart in his work.
"If we don't look out for each other, then bad things can happen to someone, which can lead to their role in our bigger mission of supporting the Soldier possibly falling by the wayside," he said.
Hughes noted the Army's SHARP program often provides Soldiers and civilians with new insight about sexual harassment and assault, and can spotlight behavioral signs that indicate a problem.
"The interactive SHARP training allowed us to work as a team and discuss the relevant issues we encountered," he said. "It brought things to light for me that I either didn't think about before or just never encountered."
When he was a young Soldier, Hughes saw his mission as being carried out by just himself and his gun crew. Over time, he began to see the larger picture.
"It takes many people who are not usually seen as heroes to support the person in uniform," he said. "We cannot afford to lose anyone, for any reason, who supports the greater mission."