FORT HOOD, Texas - Representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens visited the People First Center here, Feb. 15, to receive an update regarding the measures the installation and the Army has put in place to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault within the forces.
“This center is something I believe in on a personal level. We’re talking about things that will make a tangible impact,” Col. Chad R. Foster, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood, said as he addressed members of LULAC. “This is a big deal for us and this is just the beginning.”
The LULAC representatives, who wanted to see firsthand the changes that are being implemented at Fort Hood and hopefully across the Army soon, toured the facility and shared their thoughts about what is being done well, what should be done differently and were also asked to share their own ideas for the training.
The People First Center is a combined training facility for units, which focuses on Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, suicide prevention, domestic violence prevention, and substance abuse prevention, among other important topics. Training is conducted via an activity-based course that provides an immersive experience for the troops, so they can truly understand the training that is being given.
“We think that we’re learning a lot and the Army, as a whole, WILL learn a lot from this program,” Foster added.
As they were being led through the various rooms of instruction, the LULAC members took notes, asked questions of the cadre and received prompt feedback from the instructors.
“It has been amazing. It was excellent delivery by the cadre,” expressed LULAC member Mary Moore following the tour of the facility. “Everyone seemed to be very knowledgeable and very skilled in whatever area they’re teaching and delivery. I think it looks very promising.”
Moore said the only issues she sees with the program is it could be a lot of material for people to soak in, especially if the Soldier is under duress.
AnaLuisa Carrillo-Tapia, director of LULAC District 17 – Central Texas, said she still needs to learn more about the different levels of the Army’s SHARP program, while also ensuring that every single Soldier is receiving the training.
“If we’re training them to be battle-ready, then we also need to make sure they take care of themselves and their battle buddy on every level,” Carrillo-Tapia added.
Jeff Gorres, program manager of the Fort Hood SHARP program explained to the LULAC members that the Defense Department’s Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military recognized some shortcomings in reporting options, specifically when a victim reported to someone in their chain-of-command.
He explained that previously, if a sexual assault victim made a report to someone in the chain-of-command, it was automatically designated an unrestricted report. Before, restricted reports could only be made if reporting outside the chain-of-command. Now, even if reporting through the chain-of-command, a victim has the right to request a restricted report, which limits the number of people who know about the assault.
“There’s more flexibility and more attention is paid to what the victim preferences are, what that victim needs in order to deal with the situation,” Foster added. “Hopefully, we have a more flexible way forward to both take care of the victim and do the right thing from an accountability perspective.”
The garrison commander told the LULAC representatives that his goal is let them know that Fort Hood is making positive improvements to its SHARP training.
“We need to make sure you’re aware of what we’re doing and we need your assistance,” Foster said. “What I hope is you come back to us and say, ‘We’ve seen your program, here are some things you could add to improve things.’”
The center has been conducting a pilot program since October, but will be fully operational on March 1. They expect to be able to have two company-sized organizations come through the program per week, taking things slowly, so they can do things the right way and make changes as needed. With feedback from the troops going through the training, they also have the flexibility to make changes to the course to make it the best it can be, with the ultimate goal of expanding the training Armywide.
“Currently, this is only Fort Hood, but we are working diligently to prove that this should be a program Armywide,” added Capt. Rosa Meeks, commandant of the People First Center.
Throughout the training, the Soldiers are asked what kinds of things they have seen wrong in their unit. The information is passed on to the unit command team, so they are aware of the issues in their formations.
“What often happens is the commander and first sergeant come to us and we help them come up with a plan of action about how to attack some of the challenges that they have,” explained 1st Sgt. Amanda Hoover, People First Center. “It could be something as simple as ‘I wish we had more civilian clothes days.’ If that will make morale go up, then that’s an easy fix.”
The first sergeant said part of the People First Center training is to explain what resources are available to Soldiers, especially those new to the military, what those resources do and where they are located, which will help improve readiness in the Army.
“I think it’s very comprehensive, very complete,” Moore added, “and I think it will be addressing a lot of issues we see in the military.”
Carrillo-Tapia agreed the People First Center is “a step in the right direction.”