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A group of Soldiers Against Sexual Harassment (SASH) influencers show off their unique patches that identify them as part of the program. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

Basic Combat Training continues to evolve as a new program takes form at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

In September 2021, Fort Jackson leaders began a pilot program to assist in mitigating harmful behaviors associated with sexual harassment in the Initial Entry Training environment. Soldiers Against Sexual Harassment is a new program where trainees going through BCT learn what behaviors to look for and how to intervene and mitigate those behaviors.

SASH is a strictly volunteer based, peer-to-peer intervention program designed to allow selected trainees to intervene when the need arises. Additionally, the program teaches new trainees how to exercise leadership skills, police themselves (peer-to-peer), and build character as they train to become the nation’s finest Soldiers.

The SASH program has been very effective in the BCT environment at Fort Jackson.

The 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment was the first battalion to pilot the program at Fort Jackson. Since its implementation, there has been a 46% decrease in harmful behaviors associated with sexual harassment. The percentage decrease is the summation from across two training brigades from September 2021 to August 2022. Positive feedback has been shared from each cohort of trainees as well as the drill sergeants and cadre across the training units.

Implementation

Trainees are first provided an introduction and overview of the SASH program during their time of in-processing at Fort Jackson’s 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception). Cadre at the Reception Battalion inform new trainees of the purpose of the SASH program, details of sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the process of reporting which includes reporting options. Cadre also advises the trainees they can volunteer to participate in the program after their assignment to their respective training units.

The BCT battalion sexual assault response coordinator and victim advocate provide the entire formation of trainees their first 72-hour Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training within the first week of their arrival to their respective BCT company. Trainees are re-introduced to the SASH program at the conclusion of the SHARP training. During this time, trainees are afforded an opportunity to volunteer to support the program as a SASH influencer.

All volunteers are assigned a task of completing a questionnaire which includes an essay explaining their desire to perform as a SASH influencer. Company leadership (company commander, first sergeant, and senior drill sergeants) provide the volunteers with related questions to assist in writing the essays along with a 48-hour suspense to complete their essays. Company leadership reviews each of the essays and sort the essays by favorable to least favorable. Company leadership interview each of the volunteers and select the best candidates no later than the end of the second week of training. It is critical to have the influencers selected no later than the end of week two because this ensures the influencers are properly trained and ready to perform their duties as an influencer prior to the cycle transition from Red Phase to White Phase (week three to week four).

Each of the influencers are recognized by their peers by wearing a bright, teal-colored patch on the left shoulder of their duty uniform. These patches are provided by company leadership and collected from the influencers at the end of the BCT cycle.

“I volunteer because I try to be like a big sister to a lot of the males and females I meet,” said Spc. Taylor Brown, SASH influencer. “Getting the chance to advocate for them means a lot to me because I can make an impact.”

Execution

Initial guidance called for leadership to assign two influencers per company.

After the first 10-week BCT cycle of implementation, feedback received from trainees as well as cadre, recommended at least two influencers to be assigned per living bay, totaling eight influencers per company.

The following cycles with eight SASH influencers per company with results indicating the increased number of influencers reinforced the battle-buddy concept and enhanced the overall effectiveness of the SASH program. Designating more influencers enabled more peer-to-peer intervention to stop inappropriate conversations; horse-playing that could potentially lead to sexual harassment; and other harmful behaviors.

The battalion SARC and VA scheduled refresher training to be conducted bi-weekly throughout the 10 week training cycle. The bi-weekly refresher training reinforced left and right limits for the influencers and empowered them to continue to execute their SASH duties to standard.

Spc. Johnny Leake, an O9S (Commissioned Officer Candidate) saw being a SASH influencer as an opportunity to learn about issues he will face as a platoon leader or company commander.

“As an O9S I’m going to have to deal with things like this,” Leake said. “This gets me comfortable with uncomfortable situations and I’ve learned to talk about them.”

Keys to Success

Since the 2-39th’s implementation of the program, SASH influencers have intervened and stopped an average of 41 potential instances of sexual harassment at the platoon and company levels per cycle. This average covers a period over four different BCT training cycles. This also resulted in zero SHARP informal or formal complaints during this time period.

Battalion leadership highlights the keys to success for the SASH program to be effective is contributed to the following:

Cadre buy-in. Cadre must be committed to supporting the program throughout the cycle. SASH Influencers feel empowered to perform their duties to the utmost, knowing their cadre fully supports their mission. Additionally, other trainees get to experience the Army’s emphasis on protecting the force and ensuring a safe environment at the beginning of their Army career.

Proper awareness and education for cadre. All cadre must be educated on the purpose and functions of the SASH Program. A shared understanding must be established between drill sergeants, victim advocates, equal opportunity leaders, master resiliency trainers, and the command teams.

It is important to note that the SASH influencers serve as a force multiplier for their respective platoons and companies. They operate as the eyes and ears of the leadership when drill sergeants and other cadre are not present, and they work to intervene or police up their peers to prevent an issue from escalating. Cadre are also given the latitude to replace SASH influencers if one is not meeting BCT training standards, failing to adhere to the Army Values, or not maintaining good order and discipline.

Routine refresher training for SASH influencers. The battalion SARC and VA must have a solid plan of providing refresher training for the influencers. We found that bi-weekly refresher training is adequate. The training should reiterate the meaning of sexual harassment, associated behaviors, reporting procedures, and reporting options. SHARP training support videos and vignettes are effective tools to use during each of the bi-weekly training sessions. Additionally, tools like tri-fold smart cards and pamphlets are effective resources for the SASH influencers to have readily available for reference.

Recognize and reward SASH influencers in front of their peers. Recognize the SASH influencers upon their selection in front of their peers. This sends a direct message to the formation that cadre supports the program and empowers the influencers to execute accordingly. Cadre should make it a point to highlight the SASH influencers’ role and responsibilities to the formation to establish shared understanding amongst the trainee population. Additionally, the SASH influencers should be awarded certificates of achievement and coins at the end of the cycle for volunteering and performing as a SASH influencer. I recommend this be a scheduled ceremony where all battalion leadership attends.

End of Cycle After Action Review (AAR). Battalion command teams should always conduct an end of cycle AAR with the SASH influencers to gain valuable feedback to assist in improving the program. Recommended participants should include battalion command team, installation SHARP representatives, brigade and battalion SHARP and VA representatives, battalion chaplain and a note-taker.

Conclusion

The SASH program teaches trainees how to intervene or stand up for themselves and others against sexual harassment. It also educates them on the SHARP program and team building events focused on unit cohesion and good order and discipline. Preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment remains a top priority for Army leadership and with the help of the SASH influencers, Soldiers and trainees have another resource to tap in to. This program comes at the right time.