CAMP HENRY, REPUBLIC OF KOREA – The Area IV Women In Motion symposium brought a radical approach to building a culture of dignity and respect inside military workplaces. While traditional training on preventing sexual assault and harassment in the military might focus on response policies or available resources, the symposium was tailored more toward improving communication and cultivating strong leadership among women.
With a stated objective of fostering women-led discussion while fostering mentorship, Women In Motion was planned by the Area IV Sexual Harrassment/Assault Response Program (SHARP) as an all-day event welcome to any military, Korean or civilian employees.
“It’s always been the Army’s goal to have an honest conversation, how in 2021 are we still not able to have an honest conversation,” said Command Sgt. Maj. LaDerek Green, 19th ESC Command Sergeant Major, about the symposium’s focus on open communication. “How do you know a person’s values if you’re not having an open dialogue?”
The event was held at the Camp Carroll Community Activity Center, and combined elements from the Army Resilience Directorate with professionals from SHARP and behavioral health. The day started with a yoga session led by Bethany Cortes, Area IV SHARP Program Manager, and continued with interactive group activities and breakout sessions on topics such as promoting diversity in leadership and organic professional mentorship.
“We’re always focused on mission, mission, mission; but what about ‘me?'” said Staff Sgt. Claressa Patterson, 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command SHARP Victim Advocate and lead planner of the event. “We wanted it to be interactive, dialogue-based, not ‘death by PowerPoint.’ Good counseling, good mentoring and communication skills, instead of bored Soldiers looking at their phone.”
This new approach to the training, which also included a business casual dress code, brought military and civilian guest speakers from across Area IV with a focus on diversity in background and experience.
One of the over-arching themes of the discussion was how the newest generation of service members has brought a different approach to communication, and different needs as well.
“You can’t think you’re going to say something and they will execute, you have to have a dialogue with the Soldiers,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Pearl Reeder-Hensley, 6th Ordnance Battalion Command Sergeant Major, speaking on a senior leader panel at the end of the symposium. “If you don’t have that open dialogue and they don’t feel comfortable talking to you then they can shut down.”
Reeder-Hensley framed this comment not as an indictment of the young generation, but as a challenge to leaders to improve their unit’s culture and trust. Cortes later echoed this observation by praising young service members’ knowledge of misconduct regulations and how they are starting to call out inappropriate behavior.
“We are starting to see that shift and that’s why we want to make sure our midlevel personnel are really checking themselves because they set such an example,” said Cortes. “Junior Soldiers know the right answer and are very interested in getting it right.”
Creating such an environment depends on excellent leadership, and a majority of the symposium was focused on cultivating that leadership among women. Sessions on leadership and mentoring produced dialogue about how it ’is sometimes difficult for women to find mentors, or mentoring opportunities.
With strong leadership comes more trust, which leads to more willingness of Soldiers to step forward and report inappropriate behavior.
“This builds our SHARP program as a whole, when the trust is there more people can come forward,” said Patterson. “We’re getting more sexual harassment reports across the peninsula, and harassment is the precursor to assault. Prevention is key when we can stop something before it becomes assault.”