WASHINGTON – The Army plans to take extra measures to combat sexual harassment and assault within its ranks, including changes to its promotion boards and competitions, senior leaders said July 22.
“First and foremost, our focus is on prevention,” pointed out Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy during a virtual town hall.
Situational questions on sexual harassment and assault will be added to promotion boards and Best Warrior competitions that quiz Soldiers on what actions to take during incidents, acknowledged Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston.
Starting next fiscal year, a special module on building trust also will be implemented into the Army’s “This is My Squad” program, an initiative that focuses on unit cohesion. Additionally, the service will prioritize improving race relations within the force. The Army looks to increase its dialogue and discussions with Soldiers of different ethnic backgrounds.
“These are things we have to address and take very decisive and quick action on and improve,” McCarthy said. “We can only do that by listening and learning from all of you.”
The service has long-strived for the eradication of sexual harassment/assault. The recent death of a Soldier pushed the topic to the forefront of conversation again. Spc. Vanessa Guillen was reported missing April 22, and authorities found her remains near Fort Hood, Texas, June 30 ruling her death a homicide.
According to Guillen’s family lawyer, the 20-year-old told fellow Soldiers and friends she had been sexually harassed but did not report it.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville attended Guillen’s memorial services in Texas earlier in the month and met with her family.
“They were very angry. They’re heartbroken,” McConville said. “They’re in a lot of pain because they sent us their daughter and, quite frankly, we didn’t take care of her. We have to find out what happened, and we have to make sure something like that never happens to one of our Soldiers. This is not who we are. This is not what we are about.”
McConville said the Army must have a culture shift where Soldiers take a more active role in the prevention of sexual harassment and assault as well as quickly report incidents to their chain of command.
“What I need every leader to do is to teach our Soldiers – to teach our leaders – that they must intervene,” McConville said.
After speaking with Soldiers at Fort Hood during a virtual meeting, Grinston said Army leadership is considering additional protection measures such as adding security cameras in parking lots.
Following a conversation with League of United Latin American Citizens representatives, McCarthy ordered an independent assessment of Fort Hood’s command July 10, according to news reports. “We have to listen in order to create enduring change,” McCarthy wrote the same day on Twitter.
Last summer, Army leaders also took part in a joint national discussion on sexual harassment and assault at the U.S. Naval Academy. There, leaders from each military branch and the service academies discussed prevention, intervention and identifying key behaviors.
The push for understanding also is being fueled by the death of George Floyd in late May, after which nationwide protests for social justice and reform occurred. With ethnic minorities comprising 39 percent of the Army, McConville said Soldiers must similarly intervene during incidents of racial injustice.
“Diversity is the strength of our Army,” he succinctly said.
Last month, the Army’s judge advocate and provost marshal generals ordered a reassessment of the service’s military justice system to examine racial disparities. Leaders see it as an important step to understanding an issue they may not have been fully aware of in the past.
Grinston recalled a recent conversation with a black master sergeant who pointed out that he and other senior Army leaders don’t “see” race and instead only see Army green. “He said, ‘When you say that, you don’t see all of me.’”
The master sergeant added that when he takes off his uniform, he is likely to be treated differently as an African-American.
McCarthy encouraged Soldiers to learn about the backgrounds of their peers, especially those of a different ethnicity to them. Something as simple as asking fellow Soldiers about how they grew up can be a positive step toward understanding.
“Everybody in the formation has to find the right venue,” McCarthy said, “and they have to be willing to listen and learn from each other.”