WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 2, 2010) -- Providing support to victims of sexual assault is one of the National Guard's top goals, the Guard's senior officer told attendees at the 2010 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Leadership Summit Monday.

"I look at the SAPR program not as a stand-alone program, but as a a pillar under the capstone of support programs that keep our force healthy, safe, vibrant and in a position to answer the call to arms when our nation is in need," said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

McKinley said however, that while there have been great successes, improvements can also be made.

In Fiscal Year 2010, there were 186 reported cases of sexual assault within the Guard, said McKinley, who added that there may be many other unreported instances.

Reducing those numbers, while providing an atmosphere of support for victims means ensuring Soldiers and Airmen have the skills and training to minimize the possibility of a sexual assault and how to respond when a report is filed.

"We've made great strides in the past years in all of these programs," he said. "But, based on the briefing that I had last week as I prepared for today, I think we can do better.

"Some statistics say that one in four people in today's society will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime," said Dr. Kaye Whitley, the director of DoD's office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response on Tuesday. "That is absolutely staggering to me," she said.

McKinley said sexual assault is one of the most detrimental issues facing the Guard today.

"All of these ills of society detract from our force," he said, adding that suicide and substance abuse are other issues the Guard faces. "They impact our readiness to provide the kind of security and safety for the country and our states that we all strive to provide."

Making sure educational and awareness goals are met is a challenge for a part-time force, he said.

"We're going to have to use innovative thinking and we're going to have to think outside the container to make sure that we get the training done and you get the time with the Soldiers and Airmen that (is needed)," he said.

The SAPR program is one of the key items that McKinley plans to discuss with the adjutants general when he meets with them later in the month.

The SAPR program began in 2004, after then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reviewed reports concerning the lack of care victims received downrange.

"Since the beginning, the goal of the SAPR program has been to enable every Soldier, Sailor, Airmen and Marine to serve their country without fear of being sexually assaulted," said Whitley.

McKinley added that a solid support program is already in place, and he is committed to strengthening that structure.

"Since the military is a cross-section of society, it is inevitable that the problems that occur in society will be brought into the military, but sexual assault is not acceptable, and we know that problems such as these are factors in degrading mission readiness and unit cohesion," he said.

Whitley likened the prevention part of the SAPR program to the recent "friends don't let friends drive drunk" campaigns saying, "if you see the potential for something bad to happen, intervene safely."

"We're already used to looking out for our battle buddies in the military, and preventing sexual assault before it occurs is something we all can do," she said. "We also want people to be able to come forward.

"No victim should live in silence about being sexually assaulted," she stressed.