SMA emphasizes awareness, ownership during resilience webinar

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston spoke during a monthly Army Resilience Directorate webinar Feb. 17, 2021. He said that leaders at all levels need to take responsibility by educating themselves on the Army's standards toward sexual assault/harassment and take action when necessary.

Since the release of the Fort Hood Independent Review, the Army’s top enlisted leader has doubled his efforts to meet with Soldiers as he continues to stress the importance of cohesive teams, he said during a webinar Feb. 17, 2021.

Leaders at all levels need to take responsibility by educating themselves on the Army’s standards toward sexual assault/harassment and take action when necessary, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston said.

Grinston recalled his initial feelings of anger and disappointment as he read through the results of the review, which were released in December, and learned that installation leaders had created a culture of tolerance toward the acts of sexual assault/harassment.

“I was so angry that our Soldiers had to live in an environment like that,” Grinston said during a monthly Army Resilience Directorate webinar.

Participants in the monthly discussions include Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, experts as well as suicide prevention and substance abuse program managers, and ready and resilient integrators. The forum serves as an educational tool by exchanging the latest research, policies, tools and best practices.

“I was disappointed that our leaders, especially our noncommissioned officers, did not enforce the standard,” Grinston said.

Grinston was quick to blame himself for the report’s findings, he said. As the Army’s top enlisted leader, he is responsible for setting and enforcing the Army’s standard.

“I feel that I failed to communicate the importance of being a part of a cohesive team that is highly trained, disciplined and fit,” he explained. “I talk about ‘This is My Squad,’ [and] how to take ownership and treat people with dignity and respect. I failed to get [my message] down to the NCOs on Fort Hood.”

Need for change

Army senior leaders have acknowledged that sexual harassment/assault, suicide, and racism/extremism are considered the top threats to Army personnel, said Jill Londagin, the SHARP program director.

“The Army is working with the Department of Defense to develop a more standardized, integrated model for addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault across the board,” she said.

A 2018 survey analyzing the workplace and gender relations of active-duty personnel estimated that 5.8% of women and .7% of men across the military experienced a sexual assault during fiscal year 2018. The survey also determined that 16% of Army women experienced a sexual assault throughout their careers.

Data also identified a strong correlation between rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment amongst military personnel. The survey indicated 24% of women and 6% of men had experienced sexual harassment during their careers. In turn, 1 in 5 women service members who experienced sexual harassment was also sexually assaulted.

Increased leader engagement and perpetrator accountability will be necessary as the Army moves forward, she said.

Program improvements

Although the Army’s People First Task Force is currently reviewing SHARP and other programs to address corrosives such as sexual harassment and sexual assault, many changes were already in progress before the Fort Hood Independent Review, Londagin said.

SHARP program leaders are currently working to bolster the number of personnel by developing standardized position descriptions and comparable pay. They are also setting career ladders to promote job progression within the SHARP field.

SHARP officials are also working on a stand-alone SHARP regulation, slated for release this fiscal year, Londagin said. The regulation will consolidate close to 15 different regulations and directives.

“It is frustrating for folks on the ground and commanders when you don’t have one regulation to understand what needs to be done to counter sexual harassment and sexual assault within our formations,” she said.

Commanders will be required to complete a SHARP Command Team Trainer within the first 60 days of assuming command, she said. The training provides commanders a series of scenarios to help evaluate their understanding of the SHARP program and victim support. Performance is assessed throughout the practice exercise and feedback is provided in a self-guided, after action review.

The Army has started to roll out new training requirements for commanders and SHARP professionals in support of the expedited transfer policy. Under the policy, Soldiers and adult dependents who are victims of sexual assault can request a move to a new unit or installation if their current environment is impacting their safety or emotional well-being or the command’s ability to function.

The Army is also working to improve its prevention efforts through consistent messaging across all echelons. To enable a climate of cohesion and trust requires a comprehensive approach tailored to each unit and environment, she said.

“We know that numbers matter [as] we call upon everyone to play an active role in preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault within our formations,” she said. “We need to revamp our training and education down to the tactical level, so that commanders and leaders focus on prevention efforts to decrease the number of incidents within our formations.”

Awareness, support

While the Army continues to improve or adjust policy and programs to address sexual harassment/assault, suicide, and racism/extremism, Grinston challenges all leaders to be more mindful and take time to know and care for their Soldiers.

“As crazy as it sounds, I fundamentally believe about 90% of the time we don’t know the person in the room standing right next to us,” Grinston said. “We have to know what is normal for a person and then do something about it.”

He said leaders would garner trust if they could develop a genuine relationship with their personnel. Superiors should also move past just sending a Soldier to get help and go with them to ensure they receive the support they need.

“We all have to [do our part] to make our Army better,” Grinston said. “I think it is going to get better. We have to show ownership — all of us — and I need your help.

“We have to look at this a different way. If we don’t do that, we will continue down the same path, [which] is not a good path, in my opinion,” he added.