FORT SILL, Okla. - April is Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Month, but Leslie Watts, the Fires Center of Excellence SHARP program manager, said her aim is to do more than just highlight the program’s significance for one month.
The biggest thing people can take from this awareness month is to ask themselves: What am I doing as a leader, a Soldier, or a DA civilian to prevent sexual misconduct from happening, she said.
“Prevention occurs before an event. People can ask are they creating conditions where people respect each other,” said Watts. “If I set conditions as a leader for the Army values to be lived out, then the misconduct and things we see wouldn’t occur.”
Since the pandemic shrouded much of the activity on post, some people may be reacquainting themselves with new facilities on post, such as the SHARP Resource Center. It is now in Bldg. 2913 Custer Road just east of Artillery Bowl.
“The structure and design of the building really promotes what we do and allows us to work as a whole team together in one facility,” said Watts.
She said a pilot program is in the works to relocate the full-time brigade sexual assault response coordinators (SARC) from the 434th and 428th Field Artillery and the 30th Air Defense Artillery brigades to the SHARP Center.
“This will leverage resources, support, and training while instilling a more cohesive team,” said Watts. “We already support other units, but there is some goodness in bringing everyone together under one roof.”
Watts said the SHARP team occupied their new facility in March 2020. The facility previously served as the Spec. 4 Joe Minor Thomas Troop Medical Clinic, which opened in 2012.
The facility doesn’t just serve individuals who have been a victim, said Watts, but is also open to people who have questions or know someone who is dealing with these issues and is looking for answers.
In addition to various books, handouts, and videos, SHARP staff members have plenty of experience to answer any question that may arise.
“For those who have experienced harassment or assault, we have the SARCs and victim advocates (VA) here, but we also have Criminal Investigation Division (CID) personnel who can interview their clients here along with special victims counsel attorneys,” she said.
She added the special victims’ prosecution team meets their clients at the resource center as well.
“Really everything with the exception of medical services can be completed in the SHARP Resource Center,” said Watts.
Watts said she just talked to a substantial group of new SARCs and VAs, and during her time with them asked them what they thought was their most important job. Many responses centered on taking care of the victims who come in for assistance.
“The reality is not everyone in here will ever work with (a victim),” she said. “Our No. 1 most important job is, when you go back into the force, you have to be the change agent.”
Watts said that’s why they train people so they know the importance of this program and of setting conditions in their organizations.
“It’s now your responsibility to live the Army values out in your formation, platoon, or work space. That’s where prevention really begins when we start to hear positive things in our work places,” she said.
Watts said unit SARCs arrive either as volunteers or by appointment. The best tend to be those who were selected, but who volunteered also because they wanted to be a SARC.
Regardless of how they arrive, all SARCs and VAs go through a lot of screening to ensure the right people with the right mindset are occupying these positions.
Watts said every 0O-6 commander has a full-time SARC and a full-time VA. At the battery and battalion level positions are filled as a collateral duty.
A two-week Department of Army course is required for those who will serve in that collateral capacity. Once completed, they will get an additional three-day class showing them how the program is managed and the standard operating procedures at Fort Sill.
“The short course is designed to boost the confidence of people to feel ready and capable of their responsibilities when the time comes,” said Watts.
She encouraged all new trained and current personnel to tie into their organizations at the brigade level. “We have some phenomenal SARCs and VAs in our brigades,” she said.
Also ready to help is the resource center staff.
“Our doors are open, our phones are on, I highly encourage them to contact us. Don’t ever feel like you have to read the regulation and figure this out on your own. We are here to support you.”
Pushing through the pandemic
Watts said the SHARP program had a really interesting last year. Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought of the dedicated efforts of trained people dealing with difficult times.
“Our team just never stopped; they didn’t care about their own well-being and there were a number of times they would go in … they knew their jobs and they didn’t stop,” she said. “They overcame so many obstacles to make sure the individual who needed assistance never felt the isolation that the pandemic could have easily put us in.”