FORT BLISS, Texas— Maj. Gen. Sean C. Bernabe, Senior Mission Commander, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss directed a planning committee in December 2020, immediately following the release of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee. “Operation Ironclad” has been in development ever since, with senior leader ownership. Operation Ironclad’s purpose is to care for our people and preserve readiness by eliminating the corrosives of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault, Extremism and Racism and suicide at Fort Bliss.
Feb. 11, Bernabe issued orders and instructions for Operation Ironclad with 60 senior leaders from across the installation. This initiative is the Senior Mission Commander’s top priority and ensures leaders at all levels reinforce trust between the leaders and the led. Ultimately, the operation is designed to create an environment on Fort Bliss where sexual assaults or harassment do not occur.
“This is how we care for our Soldiers,” Bernabe said. “We must create an environment that is non-permissive of this corrosive. I expect that you’re driving focus and resources on all of these targets. At every level we must demonstrate engaged leadership, engaged leadership builds trust. You build trust by cohesive teams through immediate and appropriate action.”
What is Operation Ironclad and what is it doing?
First on the agenda is addressing the installation’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. To directly influence positive change, multiple initiatives are supporting the prevention of sexual assault and harassment. Operation Ironclad has delivered these concrete actions to help prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault and, when these incidents do occur, to ensure that we better care for victims.
Operation Ironclad is being driven at a rapid speed, with a series of key action orientated meetings that lead to a decision boards chaired by Bernabe to discuss the program’s progress and apply critical thinking to identify problems and solutions every two weeks. In addition, Bernabe routinely inquires of his leaders at all levels as to what specifically is being done to take care of all soldiers.
The installation Provost Marshal and Department of Emergency Services have further increased their coordination with all on- and off-installation agencies to better serve the Fort Bliss population. This redoubled effort hopes to increase safety and helping create an environment not conducive to assault.
The Fort Bliss Military Police station has been re-organized to ensure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week capacity to complete Military Protective Orders (MPO) to protect victims from alleged offenders. The new system will ensure these MPOs are immediately uploaded into the National Crime Information Center database.
“This continues to be about caring for our victims,” said Bernabe. “It has become very apparent to me how often we fail to care for the victims. We find out those failings through the victims or their families after the fact.”
Bernabe has also directed double the amount of required Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and Victim Advocates (VAs) down to the battalion level. Bernabe deemed the 200% increase in trained responders as essential to manage the SHARP program and apply effective change within units. Doing so, will bolster the capability to respond to victims and bring forward allegations in a prompt manner. Additionally, 1st Armored Division published guidance and aligned resources to ensure SHARP professionals have immediate access to government vehicles 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. This realignment of resources will better assist SHARP professionals to properly care for a victim of sexual assault. Currently assigned SARCs and VAs have full authority to propose solutions to identified shortfalls under current provisions within the Operation Ironclad Council or Working Groups.
The Operation Ironclad planning committee identified a backlog in adjudication of cases. Bernabe has further directed the establishment of a second courtroom on Fort Bliss, and he set a deadline for it to be complete and operational by July 2021. A second courtroom on the installation will increase the capacity of the judicial process, ultimately providing a quicker resolution to cases. All of this focuses on providing timely care and closure to the victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.
In order to make soldier barracks non-permissive environments for sexual harassment and sexual assault, the senior mission commander implemented an updated installation-wide barracks policy in early February. The new policy establishes standards for a clean, safe and secure environment for our Soldiers to live. The policy made violations of those standards punitive. The policy also directs routine leader presence in the barracks as a further deterrent to corrosive behavior.
In addition, Fort Bliss Military Police are implementing a ride-along program, wherein Company, Troop, and Battery commanders from across the installation will participate to gain a better understanding of on- and off-post happenings. This program will include city law enforcement.
“Most important right now is making sure that we are creating an environment that is non-permissive of assaults and harassment, at all levels,” Bernabe said. “That we are providing timely closure for all victims and we are effectively communicating with Soldiers, Families and Parents, Leaders and our people; ultimately our Soldiers feel cared for.”
Where do I go for help?