ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. —Twenty-one Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians from multiple organizations recently completed the 80-hour Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Foundation Course at the Mallette Training Facility. The course, which takes a proactive approach to helping victims of sexual assault and harassment, was hosted by the APG SHARP Fusion Directorate.
The SHARP Foundation Course, which was held from Aug. 14-25, 2023, is mandated by the Headquarters Department of the Army to train military and civilian collateral duty sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates at the battalion level and below.
Civilians and Soldiers were trained by Cordale Payne and Ali Wilson from the Army SHARP Academy at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, which is the Army’s designated proponent for all SHARP education, training, and leader development.
Eliminating sexual misconduct
On the first day of the course, APG Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Denson thanked participants for attending this crucial training.
“Remember, you’re joining the SHARP Team in the fight against sexual harassment and assault,” he said.
“You will be creating an environment where people feel comfortable intervening [while] building trust in their leaders, co-workers, and squad members.”
Denson added that the Army has zero tolerance for sexual harassment and assault.
“It degrades mission readiness, ruins unit cohesion, and dissolves trust in our co-workers and leadership,” he said.
Throughout the interactive course, instructors and participants discussed thought-provoking topics like bystander intervention, sexual harassment reporting, ethics, prevention, sexual assault case studies, and the Criminal Investigation Division interview process.
Helping victims compassionately
During the course, special guests from Interactive Advocacy, a non-profit organization from North Carolina, discussed creating a culture that doesn’t tolerate sexual harassment. This can include not permitting sexual comments and jokes in the workplace, said Tanya Jones, the founder of Interactive Advocacy.
Army retiree Obbie West, an international spoken word artist, advocate, and author, discussed emotional intelligence and the perpetrator’s perspective. West shared how he struggled with feelings of detachment because of trauma, which caused himself to isolate from family and friends.
“As a child, I dealt with some collateral damage of domestic violence, and then when I joined the military, I had some workplace trauma that I dealt with, so that familiarity has made me feel I can be valuable in this space,” he said.
West said there is no blanket response in how to talk to victims of sexual assault or harassment. He said we need to use emotional intelligence, the capacity to handle interpersonal relationships judicially and empathetically.
“It is very important to apply emotional intelligence, and not just impose yourself on people, to figure out what people need versus what you want them to have,” he said. “That is very important when you are providing care.”
During the graduation ceremony on Aug. 25, 2023, Wilson said she appreciated that the participants were eager to learn and were open to sharing their personal experiences.
APG Installation SHARP Program Manager Tracy Marshall said the participants are needed to influence the culture of the Army positively.
“I really commend you all for taking the challenge to be a change agent,” she said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Conaty, of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, presented certificates with Wilson and Payne. Conaty said he has seen the impact sexual harassment and abuse can have on Soldiers and civilians. He noted that the SARCs and VAs provide a necessary service because they often help people when they are at a low point in their life and need a friend, someone to help them and show compassion.
“You are in that space to be at your best when someone is at their worst,” he said. “I really take that to heart when we talk about the [SHARP] program.”
The SARCs and VAs hold a powerful position, he said, because they are usually the first people who can help shape a victim’s future and their ability to move forward.
“That is a lot of responsibility that the Army is asking you to do,” he said. “More importantly, you have stepped up and said, ‘I want to be a part of this, and I want to make a difference.’”
Conaty said he is glad the Army has “great people” to volunteer for this critical role.
“You are touching hundreds, probably thousands of people in your space,” he said. “I know you are going to go forth and do great things. You are going to help the Army get it right the first time, and you are going to make a difference.”
SHARP Foundation Course graduate Laura Cellini, a victim advocate from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Data and Analysis Center, said she is proud the Army is providing this training.
“It was eye-opening and intense at times; it shed light on the fact that these victims really need us,” she said. “It is hard to hear about what the victims go through, but it makes me want to do it even more because it makes me want to stand up for the victim and compassionately help them.”
To learn more about the APG SHARP program, visit https://home.army.mil/apg/about/Garrison/SHARP/.