FORSCOM Lead Sexual Assault Response Coordinators come together to discuss program changes

By Ms Mikie PerkinsNovember 17, 2023

Fort Liberty, NC- When 11 of FORSCOM’s lead Sexual Assault Response Coordinators came together for three days at Fort Liberty to brainstorm in a working group, the ultimate goal was to examine current processes, roles, and protocols within the Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention Program known as SHARP. The working group opened with a simple question: “why are we here?” The answer was repeated throughout the week, “We are here in the pursuit of excellence.”

Since 2014, the SHARP mission has been to enhance Army readiness through the prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment. That means any issues affecting the safety, health, and well-being of our Soldiers are top priority, and bringing together experts is key to ensuring everyone involved in the process from beginning to end, knows their role. So, when FORSCOM brought some of their top SHARP employees together for the first time, the result was much needed open and honest communication about the methods required to respond to and address claims of sexual harassment and assault in the Army’s largest command.

Melissa Pinckney is the lead supervisory SARC for 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York. She said getting together and collaborating with her peers is important in a multitude of ways.

“Being connected to subject matter experts who can help guide lead SARCs through administrative actions as well as changes within the program, is so beneficial,” said Pinckney. “Meeting with other lead SARCS provides a sense of connectiveness that is often times missed due to being geographically separated,” she said.

Part of the reason for bringing these leaders together is due to changes to the SHARP program made by the Army earlier this year that removed Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates from the operational chain of command. Those roles were realigned giving the SHARP program's reporting structure to senior commanders. The revision gave victim assistance and reporting opportunities to service members, while simultaneously giving support to commanders and necessary technical oversight at the senior command level to execute the SHARP mission.

Soldiers who are properly credentialed and who have completed the SHARP Career Course serve an important role in the SHARP program. However, the intent is to inevitably have civilian personnel handling the majority of the process because Soldiers change duty stations, and a level of continuity is necessary.

“We want to be proactive not reactive in how FORSCOM shapes the program for the rest of the Army,” said Daniel Conklin, FORSCOM SHARP Assistant Program Manager, adding, “We respond to two-thirds of all victims in the Army and also provide advocacy for their recovery.”

Currently, SHARP personnel execute FORSCOM’s SHARP program across 11 installations. Moving forward with working group recommendations though, it’s anticipated any revisions will inevitably ensure clients receive the same response at each installation with the ultimate goal being one singular program with the same standards across the board. That means the legal segment of SHARP incidents also had to undergo some change.

The Office of Special Trial Council or OSTC, was created to promote trust in the military justice system due to a rise in the number of annual reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment incidents between 2015 and 2022. The Army officially established OSTC in July 2022, and what it does is shift prosecutorial duties from an installation’s Staff Judge Advocate office to a prosecutor at OSTC.

Colonel Richard Gorini is the chief of military law at the FORSCOM Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) office. During his presentation to the working group, he discussed the role of OSTC.

“In short, it takes the burden off the shoulders of installation lawyers and frees them up to concentrate on other duties,” said Gorini. “It’s all part of simplifying the process so that victims have the full representation they need, and it also ensures cooperation and coordination between the command, OSJA and OSTC, which is key to ensuring the timely and effective disposition of cases,” he said.

Beginning 28 December 2023, OSTC has exclusive authority to prosecute the following offenses: murder, manslaughter, rape and sexual assault, rape of a child, sexual assault of a child, other sexual misconduct, kidnapping, domestic violence, stalking, retaliation, child pornography and wrongful broadcast. It also has eight jurisdictions--six of which are located stateside and the other two in the European and Pacific theatres, thus ensuring the Army has enough circuit courts for trials.

While OSTC changes bode well overall for victims seeking justice, changes to the SHARP program will ultimately place a weightier burden on the shoulders of current SARC leaders. New roles and more personnel involved in the processes mean supervisors may be responsible for managing upwards of 30 people. That’s a lot of people to worry about, get trained, manage, and evaluate, but fortunately, there are training tools available to assist with helping Soldiers and civilians assigned to SHARP roles, to make the right choices.

Sergeant 1st Class Andrea Kay is the lead SARC for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Liberty. As part of her presentation, she gave attendees the opportunity to experience how Virtual Reality technology is helping to bring realistic experiences to training sessions.

“VR Goggles are providing real time decision-making scenarios for anyone that’s part of SHARP,” said Kay. “They’re not a replacement but are an addition to classroom training that already exists,” she said, “and it’s hoped younger Soldiers, accustomed to using them for video gaming, will transition easily into using them to learn more about making good decisions as Soldiers and future leaders.

Another topic of discussion was the role of Soldiers with the Military Occupational Specialty of Combat Medic, or 68W. Sgt. 1st Class Roxanne Nissen, a division SARC at Fort Drum, said Combat Medics are often the first people to have contact with patients seeking help after an incident. They work under the license of a physician’s assistant or doctor, and their responsibilities are very specific.

“Their role is to assess injuries and determine if first aid is warranted,” said Nissen. “They are not allowed to document a sexual assault in a patient’s medical records, but it’s still a SHARP concern so they need to call a SARC,” she said.

Currently, Advanced Individual Training for combat medics consists of some Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA training, but Nissen and other attendees agree that reinforcing HIPAA rules and perhaps incorporating more in-depth training during AIT and prior to a deployment, may be warranted.

All ideas and recommendations during the three-day meeting provide FORSCOM senior leaders with valuable insight into how improving processes and educational requirements for SARC’s and their teams will ultimately result in more positive outcomes for those seeking assistance through SHARP. It is anticipated that this working group will become a reoccurring effort to ensure FORSCOM’s SHARP professionals remain effective and impactful from the top down.

1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL