By Sgt. Liane Hatch
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division
In an armored brigade combat team, readiness in a deployed setting means many things: vehicle and weapons maintenance; personal athleticism; knowledge and proficiency at every level; excellent logistical support; morale; and, among other areas still, sexual harassment and assault response and prevention (SHARP).
“One [sexual assault] is too many,” said Sgt. 1st Class Evan Martin, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “If we want to stop heinous things from happening in our formations and taking Soldiers out of the fight, we’ve got to be involved.”
Now three months into a deployment in the U.S. Central Command area of operation, the 3 ABCT SHARP program is active as ever in training Soldiers and promoting resources to handle cases of sexual harassment and assault.
“There’s a lot that goes into the SHARP program that people don’t realize,” said Staff Sgt. Joel Conrad, 3 ABCT SHARP Victim Advocate.
“When I get to the end of a day and look back at everything we’ve done, it always surprises me how much we’re able to accomplish.”
In addition to personally working with victims of sexual harassment and assault to take reports and provide support, Conrad said that as Victim Advocate, he is responsible for making sure all of 3 ABCT’s seven battalions are up-to-date with training; ensuring that they have the latest updates from commanders, the Criminal Investigation Command, and legal; and analyzing data and statistics in order to identify possible trends.
“First and foremost, when a victim comes to me, it’s my responsibility to make sure they’re safe. Are they in danger from another person, or are they a danger to themselves? Do they need medical treatment? From there, I can start taking their report.”
Meanwhile, as the SARC, Martin says his job deals primarily with the command: preparing briefings and keeping commanders updated.
“My primary focus is to protect the process and ensure victim advocacy is happening,” he said. “I act as kind of a liaison between the command and the victim.”
Conrad said another element of SHARP that Soldiers may not know about is the requirement for VAs and SARCs to maintain their credentials with continuing education credits.
“Every two years, we’re required to complete 32 hours of continuing education,” he said. “Thirty of those hours go over victim advocacy, and two focus on the ethics involved.”
In order to help deployed SHARP leaders maintain their credentials, Conrad said the SARC for Task Force Spartan, which 3 ABCT falls under, held a continuing education seminar at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait in May, where leaders were able to complete 15 of their required 32 hours of training.
Conrad said 3 ABCT was able to send 14 SHARP leaders to complete the two-day training, which included classes from Camp Arifjan’s criminal investigations Soldiers, sexual assault medical forensics examiner, behavioral health, the special victims’ counsel, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 (retired) Edward Wilson, author and performer of a popular spoken-word poem about the SHARP program.
“The biggest thing I got from that training was the opportunity to meet with our counterparts in the [area of operation,]” Conrad said. “Every SHARP case is different, and knowing the other VAs and SARCs allows us to draw from their expertise.”
In addition to the continuing education opportunities, Martin and Conrad recently hosted a leader professional development session for battalion SHARP leaders to ensure that proper reporting standards are met and that information.
“Ultimately, we want this information to get down to the lowest level,” said Conrad. “I want every single Soldier, from the lowest level to the highest, knowing what we can do for you, letting you know that you’re not out there alone, knowing what we need to do in order to prevent sexual harassment and assault from happening in the first place.”
One element that makes operating a SHARP program while deployed unique, said Martin, is that because Soldiers deployed in the CENTCOM area will have limited exposure to non-Department of Defense personnel, the vast majority of reports of sexual assault in theater will be almost exclusively service member-on-service member.
“When a Soldier files an unrestricted report against another Soldier, commanders have legal authority over that person, which isn’t the case when someone’s been victimized by a civilian,” Martin said.
Of course, Conrad added, that doesn’t mean the SHARP team only deals with harassment and assault from other service members.
“Maybe something happened to you before you joined the Army, maybe you’re just now ready to talk about it and you want to work on building coping skills. We’re here for you regardless; there’s no statute of limitations on reporting. When a person’s ready to come forward and talk about what happened, we’ll always be there for them.”
Martin and Conrad agreed that while the brigade has a successful SHARP program, the Army in general still has a ways to go in preventing and treating sexual harassment and assault within the ranks.
“There’s still stigmas regarding getting help and reporting and seeking behavioral health,” Martin said. “I would like the commanders and any naysayers to know that we’re not here to create victims, but to provide support. If they come forward, it’s our duty give them that full honest support and treat them with dignity and respect.”
Respect, Conrad said, is the essence of the SHARP program.
“If you have respect for the Soldier standing to the left and the right of you, you’re not going to do anything that could hurt them,” Conrad said. “This isn’t only about responding to harassment and assault; it’s about preventing it in the first place, and that starts with respect.”
U.S. ARMY RESERVE
DEPT. OF DEFENSE
U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY
BEST WARRIOR COMPETITION