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Feature Stories

NEWS | Feb. 15, 2021

Soldier Successfully Employs Bystander Intervention to Foster Harassment Free Work Environment

By Story by Capt. KEVIN LIVINGSTON 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade

2020 presented many challenges to the U.S. Army in terms of accountability. High profile events, such as the tragic death of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen at the hands of a fellow Soldier after alleged harassment, exposed a critical failure in the enforcement of the Army’s SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) program at every echelon within units at Ft. Hood, TX. While the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee’s findings prompted some to cast doubt on the SHARP program’s integrity, a National Guard Soldier praised its teachings in helping him recognize and intervene in a suspected sexual harassment situation.

Spc. John Pack, a signal support specialist deployed with 1st Battalion, 137th Aviation Regiment (1-137th), credits bystander intervention training for helping him to recognize and intervene when a fellow Soldier was on the receiving end of unwanted verbal and physical advances from a superior during pre-mobilization training at Ft. Hood. Although he did not know the Soldier personally, he realized that she was uncomfortable and chose to act.

“It started when he (the Soldier’s OIC, or officer-in-charge) gave her his phone number for reporting purposes based on their jobs. It seemed professional, so that didn’t worry me,” said Pack. “Then things progressed, and he started asking her for photos, and that was an indicator for me. I thought, ‘Why would this officer want this [junior Soldier’s] photo?’”

Spc. Pack said he continued to keep an eye on the Soldier’s situation and her continued interactions with her OIC. Over the course of the next few days, he saw the situation evolve from inappropriate text messages to direct physical contact. After an interaction in front of other Soldiers occurred with no one addressing the problem, Spc. Pack said he knew he had to do something.

“Everyone who saw was enlisted and didn’t know how to address it. So I asked her directly if anything was going on and if she was ok,” said Pack. “She said he made her uncomfortable and that his advances were continuing in front of others and privately. I had spoken to other Soldiers on [our] shift, but no one wanted to come forward since he was an officer, so I decided I would intervene and let my command know.”

Spc. Pack said his leadership immediately addressed his reporting of the situation. Although he and the Soldier were in different units, Pack saw both chains of command intervene and start an investigation, ultimately holding the officer accountable and relieving him of duty. Spc. Pack would later learn that the officer in question had an alleged history of approaching and harassing Soldiers of lower rank, but that he was the first to speak up and say something to higher leadership. He also discovered that once word of potential wrongdoing had spread, others who had experienced unwanted advances began coming forward.

Bystander intervention, the act of someone perceiving a problem, interpreting it as possible harassment or assault, and stepping in to disrupt, is one of the central pieces of the Army SHARP program. The 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, or 28th ECAB (the higher headquarters for the 1-137th), emphasized bystander intervention to their Soldiers while training at Ft. Hood. Master Sgt. John Paul Karpovich, the Brigade Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, or SARC, commented that Spc. Pack’s quick thinking and willingness to come forward affected positive change for the Soldier involved and the units as a whole.

“I believe a success story is when we have someone who sees a potentially harmful event and then decides they are going to be the person to step in and feel responsible for stopping [harassment] from happening,” said Karpovich. “[Spc. Pack] took what he heard in training and made the decision to be an active bystander. That set the tone for the rest of the unit and set the climate by saying what is unacceptable.”

Spc. Pack credits his quick thinking to his classes, both during pre-mobilization and his weekend drills as a traditional guardsman, about the Army SHARP program. He acknowledged that although some units appear to lack strict enforcement of SHARP training, he has never experienced anything but professionalism and dedication by those in his unit throughout the years when reviewing the program’s content. Spc. Pack stressed that the SHARP program does work when Soldiers and leadership stand behind and support the training.

“Morals have no rank,” said Pack. “You can acknowledge something is wrong, see something, and say something. Any Soldier should be willing to put themselves in that situation to take care of each other, in and out of the uniform.”

Spc. Pack is currently deployed in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE and Operation SPARTAN SHIELD. He plans to remain in the National Guard for as long as possible, and will pursue his undergraduate degree to eventually commission as an officer once he returns home.