NEWS | April 28, 2021

Soldiers use coffee, live music to prevent sexual assault

By (Courtesy article)

During the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade’s deployment to the Middle East, the sexual harassment and assault response and prevention team found a unique way to serve their Soldiers while providing knowledge about their program.

A small compound here is home to the 28th ECAB chaplain's office, equal opportunity office and the sexual assault response coordinator. Usually these offices are a place for crisis and counseling where Soldiers and leaders can come for consolation and advice during times of duress.

But every Tuesday there is the smell of fresh coffee and snacks, the sounds of live music, conversation and laughter.

The counselors and advocates who run this makeshift coffee shop call it the Teal Bean Café. Teal is the Army color representing SHARP and the bean is the gourmet coffee that makes this an unlikely gathering spot for Soldiers to come and relax for a while. All coffee, tea, hot chocolate and snacks are free for the Soldiers who stop by the office.

"We wanted a way to not only raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault but to have a fun and relaxing environment where Soldiers and leaders can meet the Brigade's counseling team,” said Master Sgt. John Paul Karpovich, 28th ECAB SARC. “It makes it much easier if you need these resources when you know where to turn and have already established a slight familiarization with those who you're dealing with."

Staff Sgt. Andrea Whelan has been running the coffee social since the beginning.

"It has really grown. When we started, it was just coffee, some Pop-Tarts and granola bars,” said Whelan, the brigade’s victim advocate. “Now, we have people and organizations sending us all kinds of snacks, and we have live music from The SandWalk Prophets, the ministry worship team."

In addition to the Teal Bean the team members run the "Free X,” where Soldiers can pick up toiletries, snacks and assorted items at no cost. The items are donated by different organizations then sorted and organized for easy access for anyone.

Maj. Doug Knepp, the 28th ECAB chaplain, says there is more to the Free X than just a place to get toiletries.

"The advantage of having these teams together is that it provides a one-stop-shop. If a Soldier wants to speak with the chaplain or talk to the SHARP or EO, the coffee bar and free-x provide some anonymity,” said Knepp. "It is not unusual to see Soldiers stopping by for a coffee and snacks or things from the Free X, so nobody assumes that people are coming to see the chaplain or lodge a SHARP or EO complaint. It is advantageous for everyone."

The Teal Bean provides a non-threatening way for the ministry and counseling teams to interact with the Soldiers. Still, for those that attend, it's a welcome break from work and a place to relax.

For Sgt. 1st Class Dale Mahafkey, one of the brigade’s lead medical specialists, the Teal Bean is a chance for informal networking. Mahafkey says he enjoys coming to get coffee and donuts, but also to have something to look forward to every week. The event gives him an opportunity to interact with the command team on a social level.

The Soldiers who run the Teal Bean also offer raffles and giveaways to keep things fun. Pvt. Bianca Gonzalez says it's the variety that keeps her coming back.

"I like coming to the Teal Bean because it's a comfortable place to talk and socialize with Soldiers of all ranks over coffee and snacks. There is always something interesting going on, whether it's music or the weekly raffles,” said Gonzalez. “It's a great start to my morning, and I look forward to every week."

When Soldiers stop by the Teal Bean, they can also participate in the “stamp out sexual harassment” campaign where Soldiers are given free stamps for letters and postcards. The program is made possible through donations from the SHARP Team’s family and friends back home.

SARCs from sister brigades make regular appearances at the Teal Bean, helping to support the overall mission of raising awareness of sexual harassment and assault prevention. The Teal Bean served as a meeting place to plan Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month events with SARCs and collateral-duty victim advocates from around the post.

(Story by Master Sgt. John Paul Karpovich, Staff Sgt. Andrea Whelan and retired 1st Sgt. Sean Whelan)

The 28th ECAB sexual assault response coordinator can be reached at john.p.karpovich.mil@mail.mil.

The 28th ECAB victim advocate can be reached at andrea.l.whelan.mil@mail.mil.