Staff Sgt. Tina Villalobos
35th Infantry Division
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Currently deployed to the Arabian Gulf and greater Levant region for more than six months in support of Operation Spartan Shield, the 35th Infantry Division continues to take its mission seriously and remain focused. One of the important elements of the division’s ability to maintain its mission readiness and focus is its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
The SHARP program is one of the division’s five pillars of strength: Soldier Fitness, SHARP fitness, Safety fitness, Stability fitness, and Sustainment fitness. As the division nears the end of its tour, they’ve proven successful in their endeavors toward mission completion and Soldier care.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey Bryan, 35th Infantry Division sexual assault response coordinator, has been a credentialed victim advocate for the past five years through the National Organization for Victim Assistance, a civilian organization recognized by the Department of Defense and all civilian advocacy centers. The 80-hour credentialing course gave Bryan an understanding of the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment, and instilled in him the tools of effective victim advocacy.
“I learned a lot in the course,” said Bryan. “The course opens your mind on how to speak and talk with people who have experienced traumatic events.
“Most of the time the victims are nervous because they’re not really sure how the situation is going to play out. They’re unsure how they’re going to be thought of or how they’re going to be judged. It’s my job to ease their mind and help them through the process, because it is a process.”
Bryan said there is a correlation between unit readiness, mission focus, and a strong SHARP program.
“SHARP issues directly affect mission focus and readiness, because when there’s a SHARP violation it detracts from the mission. It takes many people away from our mission and their regular duties,” said Bryan. “For example, for a victim of sexual assault, they’re not thinking about what their job is or what the mission is. They’re thinking about taking care of themselves. Also, it takes the subject out of the mission, because now they’re going to be investigated, and they’ve got other things to think about (such as, legal and administrative issues).”
Bryan explained the importance of understanding the breadth of involvement and the effect on readiness created by SHARP incidents.
“The victim and subject are just two people. However a bunch of others become involved,” said Bryan. “As the chain of command is involved, they will be taken away from their mission, and there will be an investigating officer assigned to the situation. Legal will be involved, and the SARC and victim advocates will be pulled away from other duties. It goes all the way up the chain of command, not just to the company level, but up to the battalion, division, brigades, etc.
“It’s hard to say exactly how many people get involved in one situation, but it’s upwards of 20 to 40 people that may be involved in just one incident. That means all of those people are pulled away from their actual mission.”
The Army’s SHARP program emphasizes the importance of intervention, action, and motivation in stopping incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault. I.A.M. (Intervene, Act and Motivate) STRONG is the Army’s campaign to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault by engaging all Soldiers in preventing sexual harassment and assault incidents.
Bryan said the division has zero tolerance for sexual assault or sexual harassment, and has conducted multiple trainings to ensure every Soldier received face-to-face training. The division’s SHARP training included pre mobilization training at Fort Hood, and then a face-to-face, four-hour SHARP stand-down training throughout the division.
The program inspires Soldiers to stand up for one another, do what’s right, and have the courage to speak up. Soldiers gain an understanding that their silence and lack of action can become an endorsement of unethical or unprofessional behavior, and thus sets a standard that should not be tolerated. The program teaches Soldiers how to maintain a culture of teamwork and motivation that takes action to prevent and denounce sexual misconduct.
Soldiers are encouraged to become aware of and key into threats to stop situations before they become problems. Staying actively engaged and ensuring their work areas are free of obscene gestures, language, and behaviors puts Soldiers on the front lines in the war against sexual assault and sexual harassment.
“If you see something that just doesn’t seem quite right, we’re not expecting you to be the expert, or to know exactly what’s happening,” said Bryan. “But we do expect you to bring it forward to the SARC, to the victim advocate, to Equal Employment Opportunity, to the inspector general, to somebody, and let those experts determine exactly what’s going on. We will help to fix that situation before it becomes a serious issue, and stop it is early as we can.
“Our biggest point to try to get across to everybody in these stand-downs was ‘If you see something, say something!” said Bryan.