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Small groups key element of better SHARP training

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 11, 2014) -- Last month at the opening of the Army's SHARP conference, the service's chief of staff told attendees he's heard reports of "SHARP training fatigue" among junior Soldiers.

SHARP stands for the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention and Response Program.

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As it turns out, Soldiers feel they don't learn much about SHARP from looking at PowerPoint slides in a dark room with hundreds of other Soldiers packed in next to them, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.

Odierno told some 300 battalion and above commanders and command sergeants major that Soldiers have told him the number of classroom briefings has become too much. They have become numb to the subject matter, he said.

"When are we going to stop doing that?" he asked attendees. "We are not going to change the culture by giving a PowerPoint presentation on sexual assault. We have to stop it. We have to stop doing the battalion-level sexual assault briefings. You get nothing done with 120 people in a room."

He said he thinks success in SHARP training, and in changing the culture of the Army from one where some may turn a blind eye to sexual assault and sexual harassment, to one where every Soldier personally finds such behavior abhorrent, will come from small-group interaction -- 10 or 15 Soldiers -- led by the junior leadership they interact with every day.

"They are having a discussion, and they are interacting with each other about the problem, being facilitated by leadership," Odierno said.

Right now, the general said, statistics do not yet demonstrate a significant enough change in Army culture with regard to sexual assault.

"We still have some very serious problems regarding sexual assault," he said. "The issue that comes through with this is its all ranks. It's very senior officers down to very young privates, who are continuing to be this insider threat inside the Army."

Those individuals threaten the good order and discipline that makes the Army what it is, he said, and that remains essential to the Army as it tries to accomplish its missions.

He said culture change means that no Soldier will accept the harassment of a fellow Soldier.

"Whether it is male-on-female, or male-on-male -- they simply won't accept it. And we are not there yet," Odierno explained.

Dr. Christine T. Altendorf, director of the Army's SHARP program, said culture changes comes from leadership from the very lowest levels all the way to the top.

"I think you have to lead by example," she said. "I think it's a leadership issue, and will only occur if leadership is on board with it."

Army values, she said, are at the center of what leadership has to demonstrate to their subordinates. Some Soldiers come into the Army with a very different set of values than what the Army expects of them.

"A lot of times folks might come in and they don't have a good understanding of any values, much less the Army values," Altendorf said. "From the time they hit basic training, it is the leader's responsibility to make sure that all of the actions in that unit follow the Army values."

Altendorf said most sexual assaults occur among very junior Soldiers, and training needs to be developed that can be effective among that age group.

"Everybody despises death by PowerPoint training," she said. "We had quite a bit of discussion at the conference about what works for troops, what works for 18-24 year olds. A lot of discussion on vignettes, how you actually have a story of a Soldier who, unfortunately, was assaulted, and what happened and how can we use that as a learning tool."

Some panelists at the conference even discussed efforts at their own installations regarding small-group training for SHARP. She said Soldiers are asked to read a book, or read an article "and then they would share information with a small group and actually force the discussion."

Altendorf said the Army's chief aggressively challenged commanders at the conference to find better ways to train SHARP topics to Soldiers. "Get in smaller groups, get some vignettes, look at a video of something that happened ... ."

After that, she said, as in an after action review, Soldiers would openly discuss -- in a two-way conversation with a group facilitator -- "how would you act differently from what you are experiencing or what you are watching."

Altendorf said that the Army has specific guidance on when Soldiers must receive SHARP training, such as at basic military training, advanced individual training, arrival at new installations, and at other points during their careers, such as during more advanced professional military training courses.

The Army also has guidance on what Soldiers should be trained on in regards to SHARP, she said.

While the Army spells out the when and what type of training Soldiers must get, she said, it doesn't spell out the how. Only commanders know best what will work with their Soldiers. And Altendorf said the Army is "trying to leave it up to them on how best to teach it."

Army efforts to reduce and then eliminate sexual offenses focus on prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy and assessment.

As part of its prevention efforts, this year the Army kicked off a pilot Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and Victim Advocate schoolhouse course to expand the knowledge, skills and abilities of SARCs and VAs. It's expected that the school house will reach full operational capability later this year.

The Army also recently established a Special Victim Prosecutor program that assigns Army lawyers trained to prosecute a more narrow range of crimes, including sexual assault, child abuse, child sexual exploitation, and serious domestic violence, to aid regular Army lawyers in their prosecution of such cases.

At the SHARP conference, Odierno told leaders that accountability is key in defeating sexual assault. The Army has instituted a new policy requiring initiation of separation or elimination proceedings and prohibiting overseas assignments for Soldiers convicted of sex offenses whose conviction did not result in a punitive discharge or dismissal. This applies to all personnel currently in the Army, regardless of when the conviction of the sex offense occurred and regardless of component of membership and current status in that component.

Additionally, the Army has also created the Special Victim Counsel program to help victims navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system while perpetrators of the crimes against them are prosecuted. There are 81 special victim counsel now trained across the Army.

Altendorf said with the dozens of initiatives within the SHARP program, she is now focused on metrics, to analyze how well each is working.

"If you don't know how well something is working, if you can't measure the success, then you are going to be chasing your tail," she said.

She said focus groups and surveys can determine the effectiveness of training at various levels. Command climate survey questions might delve into bystander intervention, for instance, where it asks Soldiers if in the last year they have observed a situation where they recognize somebody who might be at risk of sexual assault. Then a follow-on question, depending on their answer, asks if they took any actions when they saw that.

"We can go in and measure, and start to get a handle on command climate, as related to sexual assault," she said.

Altendorf said she envisions such data being used not only to determine the effectiveness of SHARP programs, but also to help commanders tailor training and efforts on their own installations.

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