FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Fort Rucker garrison held an Army Profession Week stand down with its entire workforce March 16, 18 and 19 focused on discussing the issue of extremism in the military.
The stand down was in response to a Department of Defense-wide initiative announced in February by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and was held in four in-person sessions and one virtual session, according to Col. Whitney B. Gardner, Fort Rucker garrison commander.
Gardner led each session for garrison Soldiers and civilian employees, while other units on post also held their own stand downs.
“Ultimately, the point of this is to address extremism in the force,” the colonel said. “We sat down with each Soldier and civilian employee to take a look at the oaths we have all taken when we became members of the U.S. military or a DOD civilian employee. We also reviewed impermissible behaviors, as outlined in Army Regulation 600-20, that are prohibited under law, or DOD or Army policy, and then spent time reviewing responsibilities for reporting to the chain of command if anyone observes or learns of prohibited actions, or anything that causes concerns as a sign of potential problems.”
After the each briefing session, the colonel moved into a listening session with attendees where he took feedback on any actions people felt might need to be taken to combat the issue, he said.
“It’s pretty powerful when you see a recorded message from our new secretary of defense where he talks about his experiences, and also stresses the importance of the oath to the Constitution we’ve taken to support it against all enemies foreign and domestic,” Gardner said. “He also speaks to how extremism and extremist ideology is absolutely counter to our values and how it hurts readiness.”
Austin’s Feb. 16 video addressing extremism in the military can be viewed at https://go.usa.gov/xsHyP.
“People need to truly recognize how important our oath of office is,” the colonel said. “That oath of office separates us from the community at large. We’ve made a commitment to an idea of what our country is – what it can be. Anything that we do by participating, promoting, fundraising – any prohibited activities that support or espouse ideas of extremism – goes against everything that we swore an oath to.”
Getting an entire garrison staff that is tightly focused on providing top-notch customer service trained up in a week was a tall order, he said.
“We wanted to avoid any disruptions or reductions of services, so we had to get very creative,” Gardner added. “We’re happy that we were able to keep all of our services going, except for Thursday afternoon when we had to close the child development center to ensure that we could get our very important caregivers at the CDC all in one location to complete the training. I hope our patrons understand the need for this training.”
Gardner said Soldiers and employees seem engaged during the training and the message seemed to be sinking in.
“We also brought in the chaplains to talk about the new AR 7-22 Holistic Health and Fitness, and they tied in those ideas and concepts into suicide and sexual assault and harassment prevention,” he said, adding that he also conducted employee mini-town halls at the end of each session.
“We’re all aware that extremism exists in many different forms,” Gardner added. “I’m also even more acutely aware after the last year how social media is expanding the influence of extremism. It’s important that we understand what it is, and also know the signs of it within the ranks, so that we can take action before it becomes a problem in our community.”
After the extremism portion of each session, chaplains took to the podium to talk about the “seven F words” in Field Manual 7-22, according to Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Schnarr, garrison chaplain.
“At the beginning of the class, we talk about ACE (Ask, Care and Escort), but then we move away from the concept of suicide intervention, which is really what ACE is, and shift over to the 7 F words to talk about reasons for living and resources for living, which are family, friends, faith, fun, fitness, feelings and future,” Schnarr said.
“We talked through each of those,” he added. “We all have these different means of connection, and ways of addressing the stressors and the problems that we encounter, so it’s really a reminder of why to live and how to live.”
That message has been well-received, Schnarr said. “I think the fact that we are keeping our portion of the training proportionally shorter and moving through it at a good pace, so we don’t get bogged down, allows people to absorb it in bite-sized bits. I’m hoping that will make a difference.”
Schnarr said that people wanting to speak with a chaplain about suicide prevention or any of life’s challenges should contact their unit chaplain.