Hundreds of Soldiers and civilians gathered at the running track next to Natcher Physical Fitness Center early Sept. 23 to run laps.

Unlike the normal physical training that occurs there during any given workday, this gathering was called to bring greater awareness to the issues of sexual assault and harassment within the military, what officials with the Fort Knox Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program are calling "Walking for 7,623+."

Major Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, told the crowd prior to the start of the weeklong event that they needed to think about the victims of sexual harassment and assault as they run laps.

"I get upset when I think about this because we know for a fact that 88% of the victims of sexual assault and harassment are female," said Evans. "That makes me mad because, you know what? I got a mom. You know what? I got two daughters. My sergeant major's got two daughters.

"If you're a man standing in this formation, your stomach ought to be churning right now."

Evans didn't mince words about the seriousness of the issue and those who are engaging in sexual assault and called for every person standing in formation, "from the front of the formation to the back," to be a leader in putting an end to sexual assault.

"We call people who do this sexual predators. We got that wrong," said Evans. "They're not sexual predators; they're spineless cowards. Spineless. Cowards. Who takes advantage of a teammate? Every single one of you works hard day-in and day-out to be an emissary and an ambassador and an example to the American people of what our Army is.

"Then one of these spineless cowards comes along and takes advantage of somebody in our formation, and they ruin that for us, and we have to go to Congress and tell them why we're failing -- You've got to help me with this."

The "Walking for 7,623+" campaign is an annual event dedicated to bringing awareness to sexual assault across the Department of Defense. Each lap walked or run by members of the military represent a case of assault reported across all the branches of the military. Last year's event highlighted 6,769 cases.

"With a 13-percent increase this year, you can look at it one of two ways," said Dr. Rushaunda Farmer, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for Fort Knox. "More people are confident in the reporting process and more comfortable coming forward, but at the same time we do have that increased number of reports. The question is, is the reporting gap actually closing?"

She said military officials are stating that the reporting gap -- currently representing five unreported cases for every one that is reported -- is closing.

"It doesn't change the fact that we still have these instances occurring," Farmer said. "The reality is, even one is one too many."

(Editor's Note: The 7,623+ event will run Sept. 23-26 from 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Sept. 27 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those interested in participating are asked to pledge laps and participate. Pledges and check-in as well as additional information can be found in Natcher throughout the event. For more information, call 502-624-3323.)