FORT LEE, Va. (April 27, 2021) -- While there was no jumping at this year’s “Jumping for SHARP” event, the April 22 presentation still packed a powerful punch of awareness and prevention.
The original program organized by the Quartermaster School’s Aerial Delivery and Field Service Department was supposed to take place at Fort Pickett, about 50 miles southwest of Fort Lee, and feature an airborne operation along with an exhibition jump by the Army Black Daggers parachute team. Those elements had to be scrubbed due to a COVID-19 issue that grounded the aircraft crew.
Despite the setback, the show carried on at an alternate site – the 262nd Quartermaster Battalion’s Stillions Field. With presenters just as passionate about their messages in support of the Army’s Sexual Harrassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, the effectiveness of the “Plan B” program more than made up for the absence of descending parachutes and the other activities representative of the Pickett event.
Speaking to an audience of QM School cadre and roughly 50 advanced individual training students, the event’s guest presenters – former Staff Sgt. Elena Rooney, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Virginia Greer and Sgt. 1st Class Denisse Liggens – bravely shared their experiences of sexual assault, trauma and recovery.
“The ultimate goal here is to raise awareness to the point where victims are not ashamed or scared to come forward,” observed SSG Charli Boyer, event coordinator. “There has been a lot of things (happening) in the military the last couple of years that has brought light to the program – sometimes in a good way; sometimes in a bad way – but we want to raise (awareness) to the point that people aren’t afraid they’ll be ostracized or made fun of. We want them to know they’ll be safe.”
SHARP provides a support apparatus for commanders to prevent sexual assault and harassment through training, victim advocacy, reporting and accountability. Additionally, it defines courses of action if they do occur.
Guest speaker Greer is a sexual assault survivor and former ADFSD trainer who is now assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C. She had previously told her story to an audience of captivated troops during a 2017 Jump for SHARP event.
Her talk this time seemed to be delivered with heightened confidence and full comprehension of her experience – one in which she was violated earlier in her career by senior Soldiers and suffered the indignity and humiliation of seeing the perpetrators elude accountability. As a result, Greer endured painful trauma and therapy. She is still in recovery but has found peace of late. She ended her story on a tidbit of optimism gleaned from recent SHARP efforts.
“My story is unique to me, but it’s not unique to the Army; it’s not unique to the military as a whole; and it’s not unique to society,” she said. “The Army sees that now. … They have made the system a lot better. They have picked the right people to work within that system. So, if you ever find yourself in a situation or if your friends need help, you can trust the system.”
Rooney, also a former ADFSD member, experienced sexual assault as a young enlisted Soldier. She briefly talked about her case, and afterward, said Soldiers need to know the true, devastating impacts sexual misconduct has on victims and units. Even more important is understanding they have an effective system of recourse if they do become victims.
“I feel like it’s important to share my story so other people can understand that it’s ok to move forward; that they can report it in a safe manner and there are people out there who care about them,” said Rooney who left the Army six months ago. She noted her continuing recovery is going well.
Liggens, a 92A Automated Logistical Specialist Course instructor at the Quartermaster School, described the incident in which she was drugged and sexually assaulted, and the years spent feeling like she was at fault.
“Every time I give a speech I get nervous,” admitted the East Los Angeles native assigned to Golf Company, 244th Quartermaster Battalion. “Sometimes, I question the incident that happened. I’ve gone through 14 years of therapy and talking to victim advocates … to understand at the end of the day, I didn’t do it to myself. Someone else did it to me, so I cannot punish myself for their actions. I’m a survivor and no longer consider myself a victim. It took years to come to peace with that.”
It has given her the resolve to not only detail her story in front of the sizeable Jumping for SHARP audience, but also weekly during her Logistics Training Department classes. She said it’s therapeutic, despite dredging up painful memories, and she wants to encourage and build trust with those who may have already become victims but lack trust in the system.
“Some students just don’t have the trust in people because of what they’ve been through,” Liggens observed. “Sometimes, you have to build trust in order for someone to report what happened to them. … I’m sure there are individuals who come into the Army to escape what happened to them. … It’s a lot, but they have to learn how to process what happened and trust in a leader who is going to be there to help.”
In addition to the three survivors, Col. Jason P. Afforder, 23rd QM Brigade commander, briefly addressed students, encouraging dialogue and discussion as a means to move forward. There are “things we need to be talking about,” he said, “if we’re ever going to make our Army and our country better.”
Members of the Special Operations Command Black Daggers – scheduled to make a jump at Pickett – instead became part of the audience and answered students’ questions. Following the speeches and Q-and-A’s, students participated in SHARP-related interactive games to test their knowledge.
For more interviews related to the Jumping for SHARP event, click on https://www.dvidshub.net/video/792491