By Joseph Lacdan, Army News Service

Army leaders pledge culture shift to eradicate sexual harassment, assault

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 Wednesday.

“First and foremost our focus is on prevention,” Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy said 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, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston.

Starting next fiscal year, a special module on building trust will also be implemented into the Army’s “This is My Squad” initiative, an effort that focuses on unit cohesion, Grinston added.

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 that 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 had ongoing efforts to eradicate sexual harassment/assault when the recent death of a Soldier pushed the topic to the forefront 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 that 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 last week 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 that 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 stationed at Fort Hood during a virtual meeting, Grinston said Army leadership is considering additional security measures such as adding security cameras in parking lots.

And 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.

Push for understanding

Following the death of George Floyd in late May, nationwide protests for social justice and reform occurred. With ethnic minorities comprising 39% of the Army, McConville said Soldiers must also intervene during incidents of racial injustice.

“Diversity is the strength of our Army,” McConville said.

Last month, the Army’s judge advocate general and provost marshal general ordered a reassessment of the service’s military justice system to examine racial disparities.

Grinston recalled a recent conversation with a Black master sergeant where the sergeant major mentioned that he and other 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,’” Grinston said.

The master sergeant added when he takes off his uniform that he might 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 simply as asking fellow Soldiers about how they grew up can be a positive step toward understanding, he said.

“Everybody in the formation has to find the right venue and they have to be willing to listen and learn from each other,” McCarthy said.