Braving blustery, chill winds from the Pacific, an estimated 3,000-strong army of Soldiers, family members and civilians lined up in formation at the Fort Irwin commissary parking lot at 9 a.m. on April 25.
Led by the 11th ACR horse detachment, the citizens of Fort Irwin, some with children, others with strollers and babies, then strode in a formation that spread a quarter mile long, in a show of solidarity for the day’s theme: “Sexual assault, sexual harassment, not in my Army.” The marchers walked in a loop through the main streets of the Fort Irwin’s downtown before returning to the commissary parking lot.
As National Training Center and Fort Irwin Commander Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin told the formation before the 1.2-mile walk, Denim Day began in the United States in Los Angeles in 1999, as part of a world-wide movement to protest how people in powerful positions often condone the mistreatment of females in their male-dominated societies.
Denim Day has its beginnings in 1998, when the highest court in Italy reversed a lower court decision, setting free a driver education instructor convicted of raping his 16-year old student. The judges ruled that the victim was a consenting partner in the sexual encounter, for wearing tightly fitting jeans. Today, Denim Day is an annual international campaign to help raise awareness about sexual assault and to empower individuals to intervene in order to eradicate this behavior.
At Fort Irwin, 14 sexual assaults and 12 sexual harassment have been reported this year, Martin continued. Statistics show that for the number that are reported, there’s a lot more that are not reported and there’s a potential of 90 or more people who will experience sexual assault here.
“This is not going to happen at the great crown jewel of United States Army installations, the National Training Center,” said Martin. “And it’s not going to happen, because we are going to continue to change our culture. We’re going to see innuendos, we’re going to see things that lead to much worse sexual harassment and assault. But we’re going to stop it dead in its tracks, with education at the lowest level possible. That is a decisive point in this formation, and that’s the direction we are going to continue to go.”
According to Maj. Michelle Agpalza, program manager for NTC and Fort Irwin Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, the commanding general will be hosting a Squad Leaders Summit in early June. The summit will provide squad leaders, from staff sergeants to specialists, information about sexual harassment and assault, to give them tools, including a battle book, on how to counsel their Soldiers about how to handle such incidents and behaviors.
Following the Denim Day Walk, dozens of marchers went inside the Fort Irwin Exchange mall to learn about sexual assault victim support and prevention programs at Fort Irwin. Staffers from the installation SHARP, Family Advocacy Program, Military and Family Life Counseling, Exceptional Family Member Program, and the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness-Training Center programs explained their prevention and support programs and how to intervene when encountering negative behaviors. Also setting up booths in the mall were the Salvation Army Compassionate Canine Corps from Barstow, and Rim of the World Comfort Pets, Inc., from Crestline, Calif., which trains and provides service dogs for trauma victims.