REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- From a professional perspective, Gen. Gus Perna, commander of the Army Materiel Command, knows confident and happy employees who work in a safe environment where they are treated with dignity and respect are more dedicated to their jobs and more committed to the mission.
From an Army perspective, Perna is convinced a safe working environment builds unit cohesiveness, contributes to high morale and fosters trust -- all essential to readiness.
But, from a personal perspective, the four-star general, whose has nieces and granddaughters, said a workplace free of harassment, assault, intimidation, bullying and other negative behaviors is essential to the wellbeing of the Army's families.
"We want our children to feel confident and follow in our footsteps," Perna said.
No matter how he thinks about it, Perna said the Army's SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) program has a significant impact on ensuring a safe work environment, healthy and happy employees, and Army readiness.
Speaking to about 50 attendees at the AMC SHARP Summit Aug. 21, Perna thanked SHARP leaders for the information and support they provide employees to "create ink spots of excellence that will go through the organization. The goal is to have an organization where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and an organization where we hold ourselves accountable to that. We are here because an organization of employees who trust each other is a better organization and that contributes to Army readiness."
"Shaping a Culture of Trust" was the theme for the two-day AMC SHARP Summit, which was a synchronized effort across the AMC enterprise to bring together AMC senior leaders and SHARP program coordinators with local, state and federal advocates for sexual assault prevention as well as survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking to review and discuss issues pertaining to providing a full spectrum of SHARP support to AMC's 190,000 employees. Guest speakers included Pat McCay, director of the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force; human trafficking and sexual abuse survivor Lynn Caffery, executive director for Safe Harbor for Youth; and sexual assault survivor Sherry Brown of Restoration Counseling Services.
Even though the Army has instituted policies and programs to combat sexual harassment and assault within both its military and civilian ranks, the issue is far from gone in the workplace. At a recent meeting of the fifth annual SHARP Program Improvement Forum, it was reported sexual assault prevalence in the Army rose for women from 4.4% in 2016 to 5.8% in 2018. For men, the rate rose from 0.6% to 0.7%. It was reported that one in five women serving in an unhealthy command climate will be assaulted and that 24% of women serving in the Army report toxicity in their chains of command. For men, it's 6%. Survivors of assault are mostly concentrated at E-3 (private) level.
Experts at the SHARP forum noted a strong link between the health of a command climate and the incidence of sexual harassment with the likelihood that a sexual assault will occur. For Perna, ensuring a healthy command climate is key to confronting sexual harassment/assault in the workplace.
"We are getting better every day, but we are not where we need to be," Perna said. "I think we have great pockets of excellence. They are a reflection of our current leadership. Those leaders are personally involved with holding people accountable. The consistency and depth of our SHARP programs have to go past the commander telling employees what they shouldn't do. This is a difficult challenge and we have a lot of work to do."
Perna wasn't the only AMC leader to speak to the SHARP leaders, who came from programs at AMC's 10 major subordinate commands. AMC Command Sgt. Maj. Rodger Mansker told the group they are important to establishing their command's culture and an understanding of SHARP issues while Maj. Gen. Bob Harter, AMC's chief of staff, said they can have the most significant impact on command culture through their everyday engagements with employees.
"You are more of a trainer than anything who helps to set the culture and the understanding," Mansker said. "We owe it to our moms and dads and kids to change the culture. What you are doing makes a difference every day in how we help each other, how we care for ourselves and others, how we talk to each other. It's about talking to employees and understanding the differences."
When a call comes in regarding sexual harassment or assault, SHARP leaders and command leadership are already behind in their response, he said.
"When you find out, it's been happening a while. It's too late and you are reacting," Mansker said. "We need to get ahead of the events. Take the time to talk to your leaders about the atmosphere and the work environment. Make assessments of the environment and culture in your workplace. Do what's right for our employees by working to keep sexual harassment and assault from happening."
Harter said each command's SHARP program is directly related to installation readiness, and family and Soldier readiness, which are two of AMC's focus areas.
"You make a difference for our team every day," Harter said. "Our SHARP programs are tied to readiness. Your commanders need to know how SHARP fits into readiness. How do we treat everybody with dignity and respect? It's not about getting bogged down in policy. It's about leading through genuine engagement, and incorporating SHARP messages in town halls, holiday events, leader messages and every day in the workplace."
Also speaking at the summit was Dr. James Helis, director of the Army's SHARP, and Ready and Resilient Directorate."We can strengthen readiness by promoting a climate of trust. If we can improve the way we treat each other in our units, in the professional workplace, we can prevent negative behaviors," Helis said."If we live the Army values, then we can fix a lot of the issues we are dealing with. We are really good at reporting, providing services to victims and holding perpetrators accountable. But your work is so vital to developing a command climate that keeps sexual harassment and assault from happening. At its core, the SHARP program is about taking care of people."