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SHARP Academy at center of cultural change

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (April 14, 2016) -- The Army stood up the SHARP Academy at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in September 2014. The first classes at the school began in October 2014, and in November of that year, Col. Geoffrey Catlett took the reins as the first director of the school.

The purpose of the SHARP Academy, Catlett said, is to put under one roof everything the Army does in relation to sexual assault education, leader development, and training. The school expects to receive its accreditation from TRADOC in the summer of 2017.

Significantly reducing sexual assault in the Army is going to take a cultural shift, Catlett said, and the SHARP Academy will be at the center of that shift.

"How do you sustain momentum in culture change? You build institutions that support it. And the SHARP Academy is such an institution," Catlett said. "I think we really are changing the culture of the Army, slowly, but surely, and seeing our peers not as objects of desire or consumption -- but as human beings, Soldiers, teammates, brothers and sisters. I think we are changing that, and then getting leaders to lead that way."

In 2012, Congress directed that a full-time sexual assault response coordinator and victim advocate be assigned at every brigade-level organization in the Army. About 800 positons would need to be created across the total force to meet that requirement.

All those SARCs and VAs need to be trained the same way, to ensure the same quality of effort is being applied across the Army. The academy provides that continuity and training.

The school initially started off with a pilot program at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. After initial success there, the school moved to Fort Leavenworth. One of the first tasks to accomplish then was to solidify both the curriculum and the training cadre.

To man the school initially, the Army provided directed military over-strength personnel in the form of seven senior enlisted service members who had been former SARCs or VAs. Those noncommissioned officers were trained for their new roles at the school by existing trainers from the 80-hour SHARP Foundation Course.

Today, the training cadre at the school has matured, Catlett said. It includes military and civilian personnel, and many now are in their third or fourth iteration of teaching the course. The materiel they train has matured as well.

The SHARP Academy now trains SHARP professionals to fill roles across the Army as SARCs, VAs and program managers. The academy also teaches an in-residence course for the 46 SHARP trainers responsible for teaching the 80-hour SHARP Foundation Course. That course produces collateral-duty SARCs and VAs who work at battalion and below.

"We have to bring all those people together and norm them, baseline them in terms of their skill sets," Catlett said. "We have to make sure they understand all the policies and regulations, are capable of providing support to complainants of sexual harassment and victims of sexual assault, understand how to do training and prevention, and know how to do communications and outreach."

The SHARP Academy has trained over 500 SHARP professionals in-residence so far. The school teaches three SARC and VA career courses each quarter, each with about 30-32 students. Also, there is one trainer course per quarter, each with about a dozen students. Next year, a program manager course will be added to the lineup.

The future for the SHARP Academy involves development of continuing education programs, meant to develop SHARP professionals beyond the basics.

"People can come either online or as part of an in-residence course, and take a one-week development course, an advanced education piece," he said. "You might take a 32-hour course on the dynamics of stalking, for instance. But for now, we are only 15 months into building this school. We have a long way to go."

Catlett cited the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida, as providing the type of completeness and breadth of education he'd like to see one day offered by the Army's SHARP Academy.

"They've been there more than 40 years," he said. "We're going to get to that level: different levels of education, continuing education. We envision us as having a multi-level approach to SHARP education."

BEYOND THE ACADEMY

In addition to developing the curriculum it teaches in-residence, the SHARP Academy validates and maintains the SHARP-related material taught during professional military education courses Army-wide, annual SHARP training, pre- and post- deployment training, and senior leader training. The academy ensures the material meets a standard and is at the appropriate level of education for the students receiving it.

"We have a lot of work to do in terms of SHARP training within professional military education," he said. "We are now systematically working our way through every school in TRADOC and reviewing their SHARP lesson plans and getting them up to standard."

He said the school expects to complete that task in the next 18 months, but that the work will remain ongoing due to the complexity of the material and the pace with which it changes.

CHANGING CULTURE

As academy director, Catlett said one of his objectives is to conduct community outreach.

"The SHARP Academy is a facilitator of this discussion, this dialogue on sexual violence in our ranks and in our society," he said. "We have numerous programs we do in terms of outreach. We are partnered with many colleges and universities in the Kansas area. We partner with ROTC in their programs. We are innovators in new training."

Catlett said it's critical the Army be part of the sexual assault conversation in the civilian world because it's the civilian world that provides the Army with young Americans it can mold into new Soldiers.

"If you want to really change things, you have to change the way people think about things. That's why we engage with society as a SHARP Academy," he said. "It's a social problem. All society is dealing with it, especially on college and university campuses."

The school dialogues with civic, academic, and business organizations, Catlett said.

Sexual assault is a daunting challenge shared by both the Army and society at large, Catlett said, and the Army is doing its part to contribute to the solution.

"In the Army, we don't throw up our hands and say the Army doesn't have a problem, or that it's society's problem," he said. "The Army owns its problems. We are facing this. And we are doing what we can to change the culture in our professional space, and create people who really do treat each other with dignity and respect. We can do this."