ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- While leaders continue to expect a lot from their Soldiers, the Army should get “back to the basics of taking care of our people”, the Army secretary said Tuesday during an event for the Resiliency Program Improvement Forum.
“As our great Army undertakes a fundamental strategic shift, from 20 years of counterterrorism operations to competing effectively against and deterring conflict with China and Russia, we’re also grappling with a host of harmful behaviors that are hurting our people,” said Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth during the event.
Wormuth and other Army leaders spoke to members from across the SHARP program on the importance of prevention efforts in the fight against those behaviors.
“Whether it’s sexual assault/harassment, suicides, substance abuse, or other behavioral health challenges, the last 20 years have placed a lot of strain on our Army,” she continued.
“Army leaders must address these issues by changing the culture within their units while focusing on building cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined and fit,” said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville.
This comes amid changes already made by the Army, like the ongoing restructuring of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Army secretary said.
“We’re in the process now of evaluating candidates to lead CID,” Wormuth said. “We will move soon to hire more civilian investigators to build out our investigative capabilities” under suggestions outlined in a Defense Department report published earlier this month.
To achieve this, Army leaders are working with top Pentagon officials on ways to implement the recommendations in four priority areas of change: accountability; prevention; climate and culture; and victim care and support.
All of the recommendations are expected to be implemented, “either in whole or in part,” said James Helis, director of the Army Resilience Directorate.
Many of those changes will be part of long-term efforts meant to build a prevention workforce to develop better practices over the next five years, Helis said.
The Army also plans to conduct more in-depth research into the challenges of sexual assault/harassment. Previous research studies “have helped us better identify the problem,” Helis said.
In addition, the Army looks to hire individuals to pursue accountability for victims of sexual assault/harassment, Wormuth said.
“Some changes we’re already making in the Army is because of the Fort Hood [Independent Review Committee] report,” Wormuth said, adding that the report released in December has become a model for some of the new recommendations across the DOD.
This is one example of how the Army has tried to “get ahead of command climate issues at some installations,” she said.
Even with changes announced or being developed, “sometimes there may not be enough resources or time,” Wormuth said. “A common theme I’ve heard in my visits to installations is that it’s not that our leaders don’t care about our Soldiers, it’s that they don’t have enough time.”
During her visits, the secretary has received feedback from Soldiers. One common thread, she said, was that many Army leaders get too caught up in training and maintaining readiness and they lose sight of knowing their Soldiers.
McConville said he expects all commanders and sergeants to know their troops. Not only that, “know their families, connect with them,” he said. “Everyone should have a buddy, because when people are going through hard times they need someone to be there with them.”
The Golden Triangle
The role of leaders is only one aspect of the Golden Triangle, an initiative created by McConville. The idea of it, he explained, is to ensure all Soldiers have their leaders, families, and friends around them for support as the Army builds more cohesive teams.
Each role, whether it be leadership, battle buddies, or family, is one point of the triangle that supports an individual Soldier.
“We need to make sure leaders are connected to Soldiers, and Soldiers are connected to their families, and those families are also connected to our leaders,” Wormuth said.
This comes down to “connecting with our Soldiers,” McConville said. “We have people come in the Army that we have to connect to. We have to teach junior leaders and sergeant majors -- how do you connect to your Soldiers?”
It’s more than sending a text, “it’s getting to the caring part,” McConville said.
Lessons from around the Army
Wormuth opened up about her trip to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, last week. During it, she met with the 82nd Airborne Division and was struck by how Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, the commanding general, discussed caring for his Soldiers.
“[Donahue] talked about having two moral responsibilities,” she said. “The first is preparing paratroopers and families to ensure we can fight, win and survive in combat. The second is caring for the group, like they are our own family, extending that beyond the 82nd to the entire Army.”
This outlook, according to the secretary, is effectively the essence of what type of command climate is needed at every Army installation around the world.
But while leaders like Donahue play an important role in preventing sexual assault/harassment, so do individuals at all levels. “We need upstanders, not bystanders,” she said.
“There are no innocent bystanders,” she continued, quoting Donahue. “We do not tolerate evils, whether perpetrated by an enemy force or another member of our team, regardless of rank or experience.”
Another stop Wormuth recently made was to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the Army’s largest center for basic combat training, where last week she witnessed new trainees arrive.
The trainees learned about the SHARP program and how to prevent sexual assault during the earliest stages of training, because “inculcating Army values and an Army culture that puts people first starts on day one,” she said.
Across the country, a similar mission happened at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston also visited with trainees.
During his trip, Grinston said he sat in during a class that discussed preventing abusive sexual contact. The classroom was filled with recruits at the very beginning of their training. These initial days used to be when most cases of inappropriate contact were reported.
However, the Army has recently changed the timeframe of the course. It used to be taught roughly two weeks into training. Today it’s taught in the reception phase.
Before the change, “[BCT leaders] had about 30 cases per month involving abusive sexual content. They did the training and it went down to three,” Grinston said.