FORT HOOD, Texas -- Soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division and 29th Infantry Division attended a class that taught junior Soldiers how to intervene when they see inappropriate behavior from the Supporting Warrior Action Team, SWAT, at the People First Center building here on June 25.
The SWAT lessons teach the junior enlisted to see and notice predatory behavior among their ranks and enables commanders to foster working environments where healthy relationships can form within the Army.
“We have all these programs and policies in place for after the incidents occur,” said Kyomi Carpenter, a DA Civilian victim advocate for the 1st Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. “But what we need is people doing what is right before it even becomes a problem.”
SWAT created a program that focuses primarily on the junior enlisted that empowers them with the knowledge necessary to identify harmful cultural norms and the tools to help prevent the incidents that lead to equal opportunity complaints, suicide, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
“We have a lot of Soldiers hurting and they don’t have enough of a support system,” said Army Capt. Shawn Gilmore, 1st Cavalry Brigade Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. “We talk directly to all Soldiers. We have leaders at every level that can make a difference, it’s not just the generals and senior officers and NCOs that are responsible for creating a healthy work culture.”
The SWAT unit has observed Soldiers speaking more candidly when engaging these topics in a more open environment, which allows the focus to shift towards getting people more involved with training, actively listening to Soldiers’ experiences, and understanding what they need.
“Soldiers are asked to wear civilian clothing to the training so we don’t have to call each other by our rank,” said Gilmore. “Rank isn't the most important aspect when we talk about these behaviors.”
Often, with regards to these sensitive subjects, participants were less likely to be honest with the instructors while senior leaders were in the room or when the rank structure was present. By encouraging junior leaders to wear civilian attire and speak blatantly, the SWAT training seeks to level the playing field while emphasizing openness and transparency.
“Most of the senior officers and noncommissioned officers are already married or they live off of post, and they have not lived on post for fifteen years in some cases. So, there is a generational gap we need to consider,” said Staff Sgt. Greg Cheang, Delta Company, 8th Engineer, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “Now we have the appropriate training, (for these real issues). This is not just a slide for daily training.
“The leaders need to know these occurrences happen in the real world, and with the SWAT training, Soldiers will know better how to protect themselves and others.”
The first training day included a discussion of the Army’s organizational pyramid, a chart that depicts how the junior enlisted are larger in number and how they can use a bottom-up approach to enact change to their organizations much quicker and in a more proactive manner.
“As a former teacher, getting hands on training and having an actual conversation on these topics is crucial,” said Carpenter “as it allows us to truly talk about the issues the Army is facing.”
The second day of instruction included a vignette session where Soldiers were encouraged to engage and observe scenarios to learn best practices and how to respond in situations where equal opportunity, sexual harassment, or sexual assault violations occur. Sets designed to simulate a bar, a gym, and a barracks were used as Soldiers participated in role plays and gained firsthand experience addressing and stopping behaviors that could potentially lead to harassment or assault.
“This training is much more engaging than similar training I’ve participated in,” said Spc. Barbara Rocha, a Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic assigned to Headquarters Support Company, 29th Infantry Division. “Seeing these scenarios acted out in the real world, in real time, instead of watching a video or reading through a slideshow was a much better way for me to learn, personally. It was interactive and better at holding your attention.”
One of the scenarios that the Soldiers observed and later deconstructed involved a female giving alcohol to a male Soldier for the purpose of getting him intoxicated to sexually assault him. The regret and trauma that resulted from this encounter led to the Soldier having suicidal thoughts. The assaulted Soldier began to perform poorly at work and was improperly reprimanded by his senior NCO, which caused a further downward spiral for the Soldier.
This scenario highlighted how complex the issues are currently facing the Army where alcohol abuse, sexual assault, harmful leadership, and suicide can all be present within any given situation. According to the SWAT training, rarely are these issues simple or isolated. The Scenario concluded with a senior leader stepping in and giving proper care to the Soldier with tactics learned from the SWAT training.
“There is body language that can be huge to miss. The leader set his phone down and talked to the Soldier in need,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Garduno, 8th Engineer, 2nd Brigade 1st Cavalry Division, when discussing the senior leader in the vignette training. “It showed that he really cares. He was looking at the Soldier the entire time and listening to the Soldier in distress. When he noticed that the Soldier was thinking about committing suicide, the leader didn’t give up on him. The leader continued to talk to him and gave him options where they can go to seek help together.”
The SWAT training is designed to incorporate aspects of SHARP, EO, and Suicide Awareness in effort to equip junior enlisted in today’s Army with an array of tools to help strengthen the Army culture while simultaneously making the Soldiers more aware of the inappropriate behaviors, both subtle and overt, that need to be addressed and discouraged.
“Our attitudes, our beliefs,” said Carpenter, “are the things that can shape the Army into what we need it to be. By changing attitudes and beliefs, we can make the Army better.”
By Sgt. Brian Jones