[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is final in a four-part series exploring some of the ways Army Community Service (ACS) supports personnel throughout the PCS process and assignment durations while stationed in the Benelux.]
USAG BENELUX – BRUNSSUM, Netherlands – As service members and civilians make a permanent change of station across the globe for new assignments, the stressors of moving, loss of community and integration into new environments can open the door to risky behaviors.
The helping agencies of ACS provide solutions that can shift community members from a reactive to a proactive posture.
“It would be great if every Soldier (and dependent) who came into the Army knew everything about finances, how to navigate all the issues they might face when it comes to relationships, or how to raise kids,” said Clint Strutt, division chief for ACS across the Benelux. “The fact is, we don’t all have every skill set we need to be fully successful. And since it’s very difficult in the Army sometimes to be able to find the time to do those things, we [ACS] try and put the support mechanisms in place to help.”
One of those mechanisms is the Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP.
“Part of in-processing is to have every Soldier, and civilian for that matter, have face-time with the SHARP program,” said Ryan Harvey, SHARP victim advocate for the Benelux. “What’s great about that is you get to know who your coordinator is, who your victim advocate(s) are, and we do a rundown of how services work in the area. We give out information on our 24/7 365 Sexual Assault Hotlines, we provide coverage to all our areas, information to civilian medical treatment if someone is looking for that and information on the Department of Defense (DOD) Safe Helpline as well.
“I really hope we don’t have any issues with sexual assault,” continued Harvey, “but it is a societal problem and I want folks to know when they come in the door that we have our pieces in place and we have the knowledge and skillset to provide support.”
“Having anonymous access to where we are located is important,” said Judith Freels, sexual assault response coordinator for the Benelux. “We have our partners – legal is upstairs, CID (Criminal Investigation Division) behind us and across the street is our medical facility – so all our partners that we normally work with and FAP (Family Advocacy Program) and ACS are right down the hall.”
Freels explained the importance for co-location within ACS: The organizations can share with one another when individuals are experience suicidal ideation, domestic violence or other incidents, and the organizations can implement appropriate referrals swiftly and effectively. Furthermore, the support and services project throughout the entire Benelux area of responsibility.
“When we do our in-processing brief and annual training, we talk about statistics; we talk about what’s going on in the local community,” said Freels. “Because we are overseas, Ryan does a really good job of researching the media outlets and shares articles on what sexual assault and sexual harassment look like outside of the installation. … Even if we don’t get reports to SHARP for our Soldiers or Family members, we do get reports from CID and local law enforcement when incidents occur, so we know that it’s out there, in the community.”
Both Harvey and Freels are veterans of the Army and find fulfillment giving back, seeking to be part of the solution for those in need. Freels was in the Army for 26 years.
“I worked as a volunteer victim advocate when ACS owned the SAPR program, and around 2011 they created the SHARP program; I continued to serve as a victim advocate,” said Freels. ”. “I had a lot of experience and felt like this was a good way to give back because the Army’s been really good to me. I know this problem exists and just being there for someone when they’re going through something – the most difficult time in their lives – knowing that person is not going to be alone, that’s where my passion lies. If you can help someone get through and come out on the other side stronger, it’s rewarding.”
“I saw a lot of issues when I was in,” said Harvey. “When I got out of the military and went back to school, I was looking to work in human services and help people in any way I could. Just to provide that education, training and support in times of crisis is really beneficial. I’ve had some stuff happen in my personal life that I feel makes me a good fit for a job like this, and I’m glad I’m still doing it.”
Freels reminds the community each situation is different-each victim has their own experience and it can happen to anyone: male, female, lower or senior enlisted or officer, even Family members. Yet each person should feel empowered to reach out for help.
“I try to reiterate when I have clients come to me, Military Rule of Evidence 514 (MRE 514) protects confidentiality in the conversations that you are having in the SHARP program unless you are speaking to threats to self or threats to other people,” said Harvey. “With SHARP, anything you’re going to talk to us about is going to remain confidential.”
Freels echoed Harvey’s comment.
“Sometimes people do not always believe that, but that really is a law, and it’s enforceable, and we uphold those standards.
“The other thing when we start looking at restricted and unrestricted reporting, anonymous, formal or informal complaints: These are all options,” Freels continued. “There is a misconception that many Soldiers and civilians have, that if you go and have a conversation with a SHARP professional you are going to be forced or bound into selecting one of these options. That cannot be farther from the truth. You can still receive referrals and help from a SHARP professional while maintaining your anonymity and confidentiality without filing a report. We do everything within our power to empower our clients to make their own decisions.”
Beyond SHARP, ACS programs offer a multitude of education, prevention and intervention resources. Aliyah Negley helps coordinate a number of these resources, serving the ACS as a Community Readiness and Resilience (CR2) integrator, as an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) coordinator, and as the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) manager for the Benelux.
“I think in a military environment our dominant culture, it’s strength, it’s ‘We’re tough,’” said Negley. “We’ve gone through so much training to really get this job done and really be excellent in what you’re doing; I think that sometimes we forget everything has a cost. And it doesn’t mean you don’t need someone, or therapy or some process to help.”
ASAP, drug testing, risk reduction, employee assistance and prevention education programs all fall under the same umbrella Negley explained. The key is to educate and equip people for the mental and emotional aspects of life, helping to improve one’s resilience.
This process of equipping individuals is continuous, beyond the transitions brought on from each PCS.
“In some ways we have access to more information than we’ve ever had, but in other ways I don’t know if that has helped our connectedness.” Negley said. “My dad was a mental health dude, and I feel like I’ve been around this stuff my whole life, somewhere when I wasn’t looking it just became a part of me. I consider it a blessing and privilege to walk with folks when they’re in a jam and that’s not something that everyone has the bandwidth or ability to do.
“Sometimes, folks just need to talk and other times they need numbers and to be connected to an agency [for additional support],” Negley continued. “I am able to be a bridge to get folks where they need to go. It’s about the community, the customer, the person, and if they can leave the office with one more tool in their toolkit, then – guess what – good work has been done that day.”
Even with all the programs offered, Negley shared there is room for growth and improvement. It starts with each individual, each supervisor and each leader.
“I would like to see us normalize help-seeking behavior more,” she said. “I would like to see us get to a place where we’re not talking about social science because it’s a box to check, a training to do. I would like us to get to a place where everybody understands it is okay to ask for help. We all have those times and go through those seasons where we need some additional support.”
Strutt explained that sometimes ACS is not needed until it is, emphasizing the importance to reach out beyond the initial PCS process.
“It might be that you don’t need ACS today, but it could be six months down the road you need help or nine months down the road you need to go home on emergency leave,” he said. “So we’re going to help you with AER loan, there is just so much we can do.
“If you are ever at a point where you’re in need, don’t think that ACS can’t help in some way, because we can,” Strutt continued. “There is always going to be a place that we can assist you and if we cannot help you directly with our services, we will find and put you in touch with the organization that can assist you – never talk yourself out of giving ACS a call!”
For SHARP services
Visit USAG Benelux's SHARP Page at https://home.army.mil/benelux/index.php/about/Garrison/directorate-human-resources/army-community-service/sharp
For FAP services
Visit USAG Benelux's Family Advocacy Program Page at https://home.army.mil/benelux/index.php/about/Garrison/directorate-human-resources/army-community-service/family-advocacy-program
For ASAP, Risk Reduction, EAP, Prevention Education services
Visit USAG Benelux's ASAP page at https://home.army.mil/benelux/index.php/about/Garrison/directorate-human-resources/asap-services
For more PCS support
- Visit USAG Benelux's newcomer in-processing page at https://home.army.mil/benelux/index.php/my-fort/processing/newcomers
- Visit Military OneSource at https://www.militaryonesource.mil/branch-of-service/army/
- Learn more about Army PCS moving assistance at https://www.militaryonesource.mil/moving-housing/moving/moving-and-deployment/army-pcs-moving-support/
Learn more about Army Community Services
ACS maximizes technology and resources, adapts to unique installation requirements, eliminates duplication in service delivery, and measures service effectiveness.
ACS program and services include Army Emergency Relief, Emergency Placement Care, Employment and Volunteer Opportunities, Exceptional Family Member Program, Family Advocacy Program, Financial Readiness Program, Relocation Readiness Program, Sexual Harassment Assault Response Prevention (SHARP), Survivor Outreach Services (SOS), Information & Referral Program, Army Family Action Plan, Army Family Team Building and Military & Family Life Consultants.
Stay connected to offerings, how-to-videos and so much more, consider following ACS on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ACSBenelux.
Did You Know?
July 25, 1965, Gen. Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff, dispatched a letter to all commanders announcing the approval and establishment of ACS. By 1967, the majority of continental U.S. installations had initiated ACS centers, and by 1969, 155 ACS centers and points of contact were established Army wide.
From the initiation of ACS, and throughout its history, its volunteers (primarily Army spouses) have ensured the success and support of ACS programs. One Army spouse who made many notable contributions to ACS was Joanne Patton, wife of Gen. George S. Patton.