FORT BLISS, Texas – The command team and special staff of the NCO Leadership Center conducted training, Mar. 17, to address violent extremism, racism and sexual assault and harassment. The training was in line with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s Feb. 5 directive to all Department of Defense entities to implement a one-day stand down to combat extremism in the ranks.
During a Feb. 19 press conference, Austin noted that extremism “tears at the fabric of cohesion and it’s important for [troops] to trust the men and women to their left and right.”
In June 2020, the service leaders updated Army Regulation 600-20, the Army Command Policy, which prohibits service members from participating in extremist activities.
Sgt. 1st Class David Sanders, Equal Opportunity Advisor at the NCOLCoE, led multiple discussions on the causes of extremism, what entices troops to participate in extremist activities, and how leaders can enable conversation to identify, and help, at-risk Soldiers.
“Extremism starts in this gray area, where people have different opinions and points of view, or interpret things differently,” Sanders said. “When people fail to understand those different viewpoints, and when they choose not to engage in conversations to understand each other, they begin to form coalitions that can lead to extremist behaviors.”
While only a dozen staff members participated in the first iteration of the stand down at the NCOLCoE, Sanders noted that small groups encourage more honest and open dialogue. The senior leaders from each directorate are responsible for conducting small group trainings for their teams, with support from Sanders and Sgt. 1st Class Moses Tamayo, the sexual assault response coordinator at the NCOLCoE.
“Communication is key to eradicating corrosives like extremism and sexual assault and harassment,” Sanders said. “If these stand downs were given like an official briefing in a large setting, participants would be talked at, instead of talked with. That doesn’t inspire conversation. It doesn’t inspire trust.”
As part of the training, Special Agent Steven Scholl, Fort Bliss Criminal Investigation Command, identified certain extremist groups and their core beliefs, the proliferation of domestic extremism throughout the El Paso area, and target demographics of these types of organizations.
Scholl said male soldiers who are between the ages of 20 to 24, single, and in the ranks of E1 to E4 are the most at risk of joining a domestic extremist organization. He added that circumstances such as finances, having a voice, finding likeminded people, or feeling a sense of belonging are some causes as to why they have the highest statistics for joining an extremist group.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Schmidt, the NCOLCoE commandant, shared his view on the impact of extremist behaviors in the military.
“[Being a Soldier] is not a job. We have a 24/7 obligation to care for the welfare of our Soldiers. That’s why it’s called a profession,” Schmidt said. “We have doctrine, the Profession of Arms, that can help us tackle these problems, but we have to first have buy-in from our troops. And that takes trust.”