At a time when the Army is reckoning with the findings of the Fort Hood report, one officer is sharing his own story of how leadership, both good and bad, can make all the difference for Soldiers.
“I wanted to take my life.”
Those are the words 1st Lt. Rashan Legard shares in a stark video, using spoken word poetry to recount his experience after reporting being sexually assaulted. Legard, then an E-4 at the duty station when the assault happened, said leadership failures he encountered — from not being believed, to leadership turning a blind eye, to being painted as a bad Soldier — are what drove him to become an officer and leader himself.
“I knew I wanted to make an impact on my Soldiers and never have them go through what I’ve been through,” Legard said. “To protect them, and to develop leaders to protect Soldiers too.”
After about four years in the enlisted ranks, Legard went to Reserve Officer Training Corps and was sworn in as an officer in August 2019. But that move to the officer ranks would not have been possible without the life-saving help of another Army leader.
“My NCO, when I got moved to a different unit, she took me to behavioral health and used the resources. And that is what helped me,” he said. “Resources do work, they saved my life.”
He asks sexual assault victims in the military who may be going through the same hardship he went through to not lose hope.
“There are great leaders out there,” Legard said. “I want Soldiers to know that no matter what you experience. it is not everybody, it’s not all leaders.”
“The good leadership I had, they were supportive. They encouraged me to seek help. They took me to get help. They showed me how to be a Soldier…”
Similarly, he has received support to share his story from his current leadership at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he is a platoon leader with the 96th Aviation Support Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.
“I’m a 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, black male,” Legard said. “I felt if I told my story, other males who have experienced this would want to speak up as well. It can happen to anybody.”
After the Fort Hood report findings, Army senior leaders have been the first to acknowledge that leadership has fallen short. In a recent public discussion, Dr. James A. Helis, Director of the Army Resilience Directorate — which oversees the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program — said engaged leadership “that in all ways, every day, enforces Army values on an ongoing basis” is key in the fight against sexual assault.
“Lt. Legard talking about his experience shows his courage, leadership, and care for his Soldiers,” said Helis. “Leaders like Lt. Legard are forging the only path forward for our Army: An organization where sexual assault is eliminated by leaders sustaining a healthy, prevention climate, holding perpetrators accountable and supporting survivors so they are not afraid to report and seek help.”
Signaling this shift in culture, Legard also shines a spotlight in his poem on mental health, LGBTQ discrimination, respect for women, and race. He said he is confronting these difficult issues in the hopes of reaching Soldiers who may be struggling.
“I am with you. No matter what has happened to you, I promise you, you can bounce back. There are people out there who want to help you. Just don’t give up. Don’t give up,” Legard said.
His powerful words seem to be reaching Soldiers and leaders. Legard said that since a Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month presentation for his battalion, Soldiers have come up to him around post to let him know they have never seen a presentation like his in the military.
Sgt. Crystal Lorick, also with 96th ASB, heard Legard speaking during the SAAPM presentation.
“It takes a lot of courage to come forward and put yourself out there to bring awareness…to the fact that not only females go through this but all Soldiers no matter the gender,” Lorick said. “Every Soldier should have leadership who cares about them and their well-being.”
Capt. Shannakay Henry watched the video of Legard’s poem and received the message of caring for Soldiers loud and clear. “As a captain who will be commanding Soldiers soon, I took several things away,” she said. “As a leader I have to ensure that leaders within my formation understand that SHARP and EO (incidents are) not something that will be tolerated no matter your rank or title. In addition, making sure…they are educated and equipped with the tools to support Soldiers.”
Legard’s advice to leaders boils down to believing Soldiers, listening to them, and getting them the resources and help they need to recover.
“When a Soldier comes up to their leader and tells them what happened, give the Soldier the benefit of the doubt,” Legard said. “When you are dealing with those issues and you feel nobody is listening to you or believing in you, that’s heavy on your mind, and your body, and your soul…I was facing suicide, I felt isolated…but when I got those resources, I was right back in the fight,” he said.
Cadet Vanessa Atchley, with the Bowie State Army ROTC program, produced the video showcasing Legard’s poem. Atchley is no stranger to tackling the difficult topic of sexual assault through that format. She previously produced a video where retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Edward Wilson also uses spoken word poetry to talk about the insidious nature of sexual assault.
Atchley, who is a prior enlisted Sergeant First Class, said that in her 13 years in the Army she has seen or experienced the issues Legard talks about in the video.
“It’s essential for victims to either speak out or seek resources for help,” Atchley said. “Both videos provide different perspectives but ultimately they create difficult conversations that need to be discussed in our ranks to build trust.”