SEMBACH, Germany -- Every year in April during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, Army units host a series of events to reinforce the roles and responsibilities of every member of the Army Team to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment.
U.S. Army NATO units launched the activities in Belgium, Germany, and Italy with proclamation signing ceremonies reaffirming their commitment.
This year’s activities included Denim Day and the production of posters to encourage participation, presentations by storyteller and mental health advocate David Woods Bartley in Germany, presentations during Regulator Week at Allied Forces South Battalion in Italy, and a Stand-Down Day with a variety of activities at Allied Forces North Battalion in Belgium.
Denim Day was held at the brigade, both battalions and many of the out stations on April 26. Sgt. 1st Class Brandy Jackson-Frazer, the brigade Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, organized a professional photographer, Olen Kelley III, for a photo shoot with the brigade commander, command sergeant major and chief of staff, to produce posters encouraging participation in the Denim Day events across the European theater.
“We brought in a professional photographer to craft something new, motivating and impactful to our Soldiers and their families using familiar faces,” said Jackson-Frazer. “The photos were used to inspire and motivate our organization to learn more about Denim Day, participate in prevention related activities, and serve as the faces of U.S. Army NATO on the Denim Day posters.”
At U.S. Army NATO headquarters in Sembach, David Woods Bartley shared his story “from mental hellness to mental wellness” with Soldiers and civilian employees during two presentations.
“To the great men and women, the Soldiers of the army, if I had one message in regard to this monster, this thing called suicide, is that connection creates hope,” said Bartley. “And please don't underestimate the power of hope.
“Hope is a weapon. It is the single most important weapon that there is, and it only comes by way of connection.
“We can't give ourselves hope, and connection is when we feel seen, heard and valued.
“Leverage that unit cohesion, the individuality of battle buddies coming together. You will create hope. “
Allied Forces North in Belgium went all out on Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month partnering with American Forces Network Benelux, the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux, the Exchange, and the SHAPE International Band on a series of events culminating in a Stand-Down Day of group discussions and activities on April 28.
“We've been planning this event for months,” said Staff Sgt. Gina Marasco, Allied Forces North Battalion S3. “The SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) Program is important to Soldiers’ well-being because it provides a support system embedded throughout the army. From victim advocates to SARCs, commanders and legal teams the SHARP program ensures victims, whether civilian or military, are taken care of, always.”
The Allied Forces North Stand Down Day included group discussions with subject matter experts on a variety of topics and also included games and activities with further discussion in the morning.
Following a break for lunch, participants reassembled for an afternoon of sporting events with the intent to promote esprit de corps and encourage a culture of change within the force.
“Any personnel loss diminishes the readiness of an organization and immediately impacts mission accomplishment,” said Lt. Col. Bonnie Kovatch, AFNorth commander. “But sexual harassment and sexual assault erode trust which diminishes organizational effectiveness long before any physical loss of a Soldier.
“Sexual harassment and sexual assault destroy army readiness, and that behavior runs counter to our army values and warrior ethos ultimately eroding the trust between the military and those whom we serve to protect.
“Investment in prevention and in command programs such as SHARP are important to our efforts at trust building.”
The highlight of the AFNorth Stand-Down Day came at the end of the day in the form of a performance by the SHAPE International Band that included a song, “I’m Strong Enough,” about prevention of sexual harassment and assault written by band member Sgt. 1st Class Miguel Davis.
“I felt music is so powerful,” said Davis. “Music crosses so many sectors, so many languages, but one thing is very, very unique in that music is understood in every language.
Davis said his intent was to create a song that drew the listener in so he could use that as a launching point for delivering the critical messages of the SHARP program during SAAPM month.
“When I think about the journey of a victim, you know it's a long process,” he said. “It's a slow process in some cases, and we really have to go at their pace.
“But really what we want to see is at the end for them to take that power back into their own hands saying I am strong enough.”
Jackson-Frazer said the Army’s focus for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is “ensuring healthy climates and creating a culture focused on prevention that stops sexual harassment and sexual assault before it occurs.”
“This will be accomplished by understanding and targeting the underlying Army cultural issues that have contributed to the high rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault,” she said.
The mission of U.S. Army NATO is to provide ready and resilient Soldiers to the NATO alliance by ensuring U.S. Army Soldiers and their families assigned to NATO billets receive the support they need to thrive in a variety of environments at 82 locations in 22 countries.
For more information go to the USA NATO Home Page.