ARLINGTON, Va. – The National Guard Bureau is implementing changes to better fight sexual assault and harassment in the ranks with new prevention initiatives across the Guard force.
These measures include an integrated approach that will add resources and a workforce designed to help eliminate sexual assault and harassment in the Guard in every state, territory and the District of Columbia, based on recommendations from a secretary of defense-mandated independent review commission.
“The National Guard has shifted from a secondary prevention effort to an integrated primary prevention effort,” said Army Maj. Gen. Eric Little, the NGB’s director of manpower and personnel. “I think that’s probably the biggest key in what we’re doing differently now, is making that shift to prevention focus. Our primary focus in National Guard was on response until about 18 months ago.
“This strategy is going to attack sexual assaults and harassments, and harmful acts at the point of influence,” he said.
Little said a civilian program director and separate experts on the prevention of domestic abuse, violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment are to be assigned to each Joint Forces Headquarters throughout the Guard. NGB is also adding uniformed prevention specialists at the brigade and wing levels to implement prevention policies.
While prevention will be the primary effort, sexual assault and harassment response is also evolving. Little said victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators will be removed from a unit’s chain of command to eliminate pressure or fear of retaliation from leadership.
SARCs and VAs coordinate appropriate and responsive care for victims of sexual assault.
“That brigade or wing commander will not rate their SARC or VA,” he said. “That chain of command will go from the unit to the Joint Force Headquarters up to the first one-star general officer in the chain of command.”
This transition to a prevention emphasis will integrate a previously siloed approach, Little said, adding that incorporating prevention resources into the 450,000-member strong Guard force is a challenge and the problems won’t be completely solved overnight.
“There has been no integrated focus on prevention,” he said. “Chaplains did their thing, family programs did their thing, and SARCs, VAs and Equal Employment Opportunity program managers did their thing.
“In the National Guard, it’s challenging because leaders only see their troops a few times a month,” he said. “We’re not centrally located.”
Another challenge in handling sexual assault and harassment in the Guard is working within the parameters of local and state laws. Guardsmen, unless deployed or mobilized, are in a non-duty status about 90% of the time. When not federally mobilized, the Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to them.
If state jurisdictions decide not to levy legal action in a sexual assault or harassment, the Guard can only take administrative action. State laws identify sexual assault differently, and Little said the prevention initiatives include adding legal advisers to help navigate local laws.
The Guard follows Defense Department, Army and Air Force guidance, but Little said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, has the flexibility to develop policy and guidance that addresses the National Guard’s Joint Force as the Guard is a non-federalized force.
Sexual assault and harassment erode a unit’s readiness, but Little cited examples of units across the Guard that have effectively reduced risks and increased protective factors for preventing sexual assault and harassment.
“There’s a field artillery battery that embodies about what the Guard is all about,” Little said. “They’re a very close-knit community; they know each other on and off duty. They feel very comfortable talking to their leadership. If someone was having a problem, they would intervene. They felt that their leadership cared.”
In January, Hokanson told the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee: “We owe [our Guardsmen] strong leadership at every level, and we owe them a workplace free from the violence of assault and harassment. This is a serious problem, and we recognize it as such.”
Little said he believes these prevention initiatives will go a long way to achieving Hokanson’s goal.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction to address and stop these issues before they even happen,” he said.