FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. – Sgt. 1st Class John Reyes’ passion for teaching was evident during the two weeks he spent at the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering in New Brunswick, Canada.
Ninety-five years ago, the 19th Amendment was ratified, signaling a momentous commitment to equal rights for all Americans. As we acknowledge women’s struggles and celebrate their right to vote, we also recognize women in the Army for their tremendous contributions and relentless spirit in helping to keep this nation free.
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — A shift in Army aviation strategy has led Staff Sgt. Brody Rasor to make a change in his military occupational specialty mid-way through his career.
With 12 years experience as an Army OH-58 Kiowa Warrior helicopter technician, Rasor is now setting his sights on becoming an unmanned aircraft vehicle operator. He made the career change after Army leadership decided to discontinue use of the Kiowa Warrior. The end of Kiowa helicopters comes as part of an Armywide shift in its helicopter fleet to cut costs and reduce the various types of helicopters in service.
WASHINGTON (Aug. 26, 2015) — With a pressing need for an improved AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel radar vehicle platform and no time to procure a new platform or radar, the Program Executive Office for Missiles and Space, or PEO MS, teamed up with Letterkenny Army Depot, or LEAD, Pennsylvania, to modify an existing platform in what could be a model for partnership with the organic industrial base. This effort, which moves the Sentinel from a modified High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or HMMWV, to the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles, or FMTV, platform without requiring modification of the radar itself, overcame a number of challenges and led to several process improvements for project and product offices to partner with Army depots.
FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 26) — From start to finish, the inaugural CASCOM-Fort Lee SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Awareness and Reporting Program) Summit at the Army Logistics University here Friday was an unfiltered and frequently harsh look at sexual misconduct in the military.
Its presenters included a criminal investigator, a forensic examiner, the lead staff judge advocate for CASCOM, a behavioral science professor and a three-member panel of sexual assault survivors who shared details of their attacks and how they have rebuilt their lives in the wake of the ordeal.
The summit opened with remarks by Maj. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general. “I take the issue of sexual misconduct very personally,” he told the audience of senior leaders and special guests. They included Air Force Lt. Gen. Wendy Masiello, director of the Defense Contract Management Agency headquartered here; Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general, Center for Initial Military Training, TRADOC-Fort Eustis; and various school commandants and regimental command sergeants major from each of the organizations under the Sustainment Center of Excellence, among others.
“It is very difficult for me to imagine an organization like ours, where we have that upper level of engaged leadership, allowing any sort of SHARP incident to happen,” Williams also noted during his talk. “My staff — those people who work most closely around me — will understand how I feel about this issue. It is unconceivable … that someone in my immediate environment, particularly those I have supervision over, would make the mistake of being involved in any incident of sexual harassment or assault. In my mind, if leaders are engaged at every level, they would feel the same way about it and be just as vocal as I am. We are not going to ignore this or allow it to happen in our formations. It has no place in our ranks.”
The first featured speaker at the summit was Monique Ferrell, director, Headquarters Department of the Army SHARP Program Office at the Pentagon. She too emphasized the need for “total leader involvement” to eradicate sex crimes among the military workforce.
“How can we consider ourselves the greatest fighting force on earth when there are incidents of sexual offenses going on in our ranks?” she posed early on in her briefing. “We must view sexual predators and perpetrators as insider threats that bring great damage to the Army team. They destroy our professional image and take away the trust of America’s families who send us their sons, daughters and loved ones.”
Cultural change is the greatest battle of the SHARP program, Ferrell also noted. New Soldiers come into the Army with varied sets of values, including a skewed view of acceptable social behavior. Long-time troops have prolonged past practices of “hazing, horseplay and locker room antics” that disregard human dignity and proper conduct. In both of these situations, leader intervention and sustained emphasis of what’s right among Army professionals is paramount.
Recalling a chief of staff of the Army-sponsored SHARP summit several months ago, and the admission of “professional embarrassment” by soon-to-be Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey after he heard the testimony of a survivor’s panel, Ferrell said, “That’s when the weight of this program really hit me because we have such an important job of removing this source of humiliation, pain and unprofessionalism from our force. It’s not something we should only strive to do; it is something we must do because of the damage it continues to have on all of us in this profession.”
Ferrell also spoke briefly about the “Not in My Squad” initiative Dailey is now promoting as the SMA. It’s all about taking responsibility in one’s “realm of authority,” she explained. It pushes the prevention of sexual harassment and assault down to the junior levels where even lower-enlisted personnel can feel empowered to correct the behavior of those around them.
“Some are calling it just another slogan, and that’s a perception we’re working to change,” Ferrell said. “It’s really a call to action, and it’s working. The tide of awareness and intervention is spreading, and we hope it will even transition to the civilian ranks who will say ‘not on my team’ and ‘not in my office.’ It all goes back to the total cultural change needed to fix this problem.”
The intense emotional impact of sexual assault was revealed in the next presentation of the day. The survivor’s panel consisted of three Soldiers — Col. Jack Usrey, commandant of the Adjutant General School at Fort Jackson, S.C., who was molested by a babysitter and family members when he was a child; Command Sgt. Maj. Julie Guerra, I Corps G2 SGM at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., who was sexually assaulted during her first duty assignment 20 years ago; and Staff Sgt. Mary Valdez, who lost faith in the military when her rapist was acquitted but has since regained a sense of belonging and purpose as a victim advocate. She now serves as a Noncommissioned Officer Academy small group leader at Fort Drum, N.Y.
“In hindsight, I really wasn’t aware of what was going on during my childhood,” said Usrey, who was the first to talk about his ordeal. “Perhaps my mind was protecting me from things I wasn’t ready to handle.”
As is usually the case with trauma survivors, however, the memories slowly returned.
“I turned 50 this week, and right now I can clearly see the front door of the house,” he said. “I’m walking into the living room and through the kitchen. I turn right into a little room that had a gun rack hanging on the wall, then left into the back bedroom where I see the corner of the bed where it happened. I can see it. It never goes away.”
The “it” took place when he was 5 years old. A babysitter and her three adolescent children — one of them not much older that Usrey was at the time — sexually assaulted him. At least two other similar incidents involving family members occurred by the time he had reached age 12. He said his parents are not aware of what happened.
“I bottled it up until just a few years ago when I finally talked to my wife and son about it,” Usrey said. “It was the turning point I needed. I was no longer going it alone.”
Two months ago, he told his story for the first time to a 400-member audience at Fort Jackson. The same day, 25 individuals reported sexual assaults from their past … 20 of them were men.
“That’s an indicator. We need to talk about this,” Usrey stressed. “We have to stop feeling squeamish and engage in those uncomfortable conversations because the problem is out there and we have to get after it. Parents need to have the conversation with their children, male and female. It won’t be easy but it’s profoundly necessary.”
Usrey said he still “struggles with the demons.” Most mornings, he wakes up feeling ashamed, enraged or both. “But I refuse to be a victim of those memories,” he added. “I am a survivor. I will not accept defeat. This is a rock I will gladly carry in my rucksack if its message means someone else is spared the pain and suffering I have gone through.”
Guerra was next to share her account, which she admitted is “tragically similar” to the SHARP training videos used by the Army today. Six months into her first duty assignment. Unit party and intoxication. “Chivalrous” male Soldier walks her home. Returns to her barracks room knowing she’s drunk and commits a sexual assault.
“What makes this story different is the support I received from my chain of command back in 1995 when there was no SHARP, no victim advocates and no requirement for training,” Guerra recounted.
“I remember escaping and running from my room screaming. My floor sergeant … found me sitting on the floor crying. He intuitively knew what happened and what he as a leader needed to do. He chased the perpetrator out of the barracks, called the military police and told me ‘don’t shower, don’t go to the bathroom, don’t do anything.’ With no formal training, he made sure I was OK and got me the help I needed.”
After the attack, Guerra buried her anger with destructive behavior. Drinking, getting into fights and shunning relationships were all signs of a Soldier in crisis, and her command once again took action by arranging for the counseling and support she needed.
“Why is this important?” Guerra asked. “Well, consider this. I just accepted a command position in the same brigade I was assigned to when I was assaulted as a young Soldier. Imagine how I would have felt if I had never said anything about what happened or had caring leaders who took this seriously and made sure I was taken care of back then. Could I live with a title that included that organization’s name? … What you do — your actions, your emphasis, your response — will be remembered for the rest of a Soldier’s career. I can now say I’m proud to move forward with this next assignment.”
Valdez wrote a poem that sums up her slow recovery from the memories of the rape she suffered several years ago while stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
“My mind has kept my emotions away from this pen until now,” it began. “As I sway my hand from left to right, slanted ink stains these sheets, which might as well be my blood. Who can contain such denial, shame, fury, betrayal and worst of all, psychological pain? I can’t. Not anymore. Sway hand, keep swaying. Scripture it all out so no more tainted blood flows through these veins and releases me from this cage I have imprisoned myself in.”
The poem concluded with her statement of victory. How becoming a staunch victim advocate has helped her move forward with her Army career.
“I feel an obligation to help the Army with this complex problem as should every single person in this uniform,” Valdez later said. “Not in my Army will I stand for such a thing and neither should you. I am not speaking out to change the Army culture as a whole, just the flawed portion within it that feeds the stigmas of sexual assault.”
Other highlights of the summit included the legal presentation by CASCOM Staff Judge Advocate Col. John S. Frost. He provided a thorough overview of the SJA services available to those involved in a sexual assault case, and leadership responsibilities when investigating a report of sexual misconduct.
At one point during the briefing, the CASCOM commander commented, “I think we need to do a better job of communicating the consequences of these incidents.” Ferrell and other members of the audience agreed, saying it would send the message of serious repercussions for sexual crimes, counteracting the belief that perpetrators are “getting away with it.”
Frost also made note of several important changes to sexual misconduct legal proceedings. The “good Soldier defense,” for example, is no longer admissible in court and commanders can’t use the stellar past performance of the accused as a reason to not move forward with an investigation or submit validated findings to the next level of the chain of command.
After the lunch break, Special Agent Jason Huggins from the Army Criminal Investigation Division Command offered insights about the sexual assault victim and perpetrator interview process. He emphasized how time is a considerable factor when beginning the investigation of an unrestricted report because individuals have a tendency to insert false data into memory gaps, or they will omit important details that have become too difficult to remember.
Russel Strand, chief of the U.S. Army Military Police School’s Behavioral Sciences Education and Training Division, discussed male sexual assault during a subsequent presentation. Removing his suit jacket at one point in the talk, he revealed a shirt covered with words like fear, shame, anger and pain.
“This is the shirt men in our formation are secretly wearing today,” he said and later noted, “We have a lot of learning to do because we still can’t accept the concept of male sexual assault.”
The final speakers of the event were Michelle Ortiz, a sexual assault forensic nurse at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital, and retired Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley who was the commanding general of the Ordnance Center and School (Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.) when it was embroiled in a nationally publicized sexual misconduct scandal involving drill sergeants and trainees in 1997.
“The main thing I want to reemphasize is that SHARP is not a personnel issue; it is a readiness issue, a go-to-war issue,” Shadley stressed to the attendees. “We need every man and woman in our formations to be able to come to work every day and do the best job they can. We can’t afford the tragic distractions of sexual misconduct, particularly as the military downsizes. Let’s take this to heart and do what we’re supposed to do as leaders in the United States Army.”
WASHINGTON (Aug. 25, 2015) — Spc. Aleksander R. Skarlatos, one of three Americans who subdued a heavily armed gunman on a Paris-bound train, will be awarded the Soldiers Medal – the U.S. Army’s highest award for acts of heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.
Senior Army leaders announced Tuesday that Skarlatos, a member of the Oregon Army National Guard, will receive the award after reviewing information submitted by the National Guard Bureau.
Skarlatos was traveling from Amsterdam to Paris when a gunman emerged from a train lavatory carrying an AK-47 and a Lugar pistol. After hearing the sound of gunfire, Skarlatos called to others on the train to act, then charged the gunman.
He then “forcefully wrestled the two firearms from the gunman’s possession,” according to the award submission. “As the gunman fought relentlessly, wielding a box-cutting razor, Spc. Skarlatos seized the assailant’s own rifle to employ as a blunt weapon,” knocking the gunman unconscious, then securing him “with makeshift restraints.”
“Spc. Skarlatos’ actions that day epitomize what we mean by a Soldier of character – one who lives by a personal code where dedication to duty and taking care of others is sacred,” said Army Secretary John M. McHugh. “His actions, and those of his fellow serviceman and passengers, exemplify the highest standards of selfless service. We are proud to count him in our ranks.”
Skarlatos and two of his childhood friends, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, were on vacation traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on the train. Skarlatos is a member the Oregon National Guard’s 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
He is being awarded the Soldiers Medal “for extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty” and the medal’s citation reads, in part, that “Specialist Skarlatos distinguished himself in a courageous manner, voluntarily accepting risk to his own life,” and that his “brave actions prevented a potentially catastrophic loss of life.”
“On behalf of our Army, I commend Spc. Aleksander Skarlatos for his heroic actions Friday that saved hundreds of lives by awarding him the Soldier’s Medal,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley. “His extraordinarily heroic effort, at the risk to his own life, truly exemplifies our Army values. I am proud to call you a hero and a Soldier.”
Stone has been similarly nominated for the Airman’s medal, the U.S. Air Force’s highest non-combat award.
On Monday, Skarlatos, Stone, Sadler and a British businessman received the Legion d’Honneur – France’s highest recognition – presented in Paris by French President Francois Hollande.
“While the investigation into the attack is in its early stages, it is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“We often use the word hero, and in this case I know that word has never been more appropriate,” said Jane D. Hartley, the U.S. Ambassador to France. “They are truly heroes. When most of us would run away, Spencer, Alek and Anthony ran into the line of fire, saying ‘let’s go.’ Those words changed the fate of many.”
News reports indicate that after opening fire in an adjacent car the attacker stopped to reload. That’s when Skarlatos spotted him emerging from the lavatory.
Stone described the scene: “I was asleep with my headphones on and my friend, Alek, was sitting to the left of me and Anthony was sitting to my right across the aisle. I wake up and I see Alek moving around saying ‘oh crap! Oh crap!'”
Skarlatos motioned to the gunman, who had entered the cabin brandishing an AK-style assault rifle.
“I kinda turn around and see the guy,” Stone said, “and he’s got the AK, he’s trying to charge it. I just throw my headphones off and turn around in my seat, get low and kinda look around.”
At this point the gunman had passed Stone and Skarlatos. It was at that moment their lives changed. ”Alek taps me on the shoulder and says ‘go get ’em!’ and that’s when I got up and I sprinted at him.”
For Skarlatos, it was a split-second decision to act.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” he said. “We didn’t even have time to think about it. We just acted.”
Stone reached the attacker first, tackled him and began to grapple with him.
“I was feeling for the gun and couldn’t find it,” Stone said. “I felt it a couple times but he kept taking it away. So I just put him in a rear naked choke to protect myself and my friend, Alek [Skarlatos], came up and took the [rifle].”
Stone was injured when the attacker slashed him with a box cutter, nearly severing Stone’s thumb and causing him to lose his grip on the attacker. Skarlatos, Stone and Sadler then were able to surround the attacker and finally subdue him, Stone said.
“If it wasn’t for Alek and Anthony, I’d be dead,” Stone said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself. He definitely woulda’ got me.”
“He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end,” Stone said. “So were we.”
Once the gunman was down the trio began assessing any other threats in the area and provided medical attention to a passenger who had been injured by the attacker.
Officials said the actions of Skarlatos and Stone would be reviewed and the two would be presented with any appropriate U.S. awards for their actions. Awards aside, others were glad somebody intervened in the attacker’s plans.
“It’s fantastic that no matter who it was, someone stepped up to stop such a horrific event,” said Maj. Stephen Bomar, a spokesperson with the Oregon National Guard. “We’re absolutely proud that it happened to be someone from the Oregon Army National Guard.”
“These men are true heroes. The Oregon National Guard is very proud of Spc. Skarlatos. His quick reaction, his courage, and his bravery undoubtedly saved many lives, for which we are thankful beyond words. He is a true citizen soldier who displayed the courage each of us would hope to find in ourselves,” said Brig. Gen. Michael E. Stencel, acting adjutant general, Oregon.
“Spc. Skarlatos is a model citizen soldier,” said Lt. Gen. Timothy Kadavy, director, Army National Guard. “His willingness to risk himself to save others represents the very best of the Army National Guard.”
(Editor’s note: Air Force Tech Sgt. Ryan Crane contributed to this article.)
French President Francois Hollande congratulates Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, left, and National Guard Spc. Aleksander Skarlatos, right, in Paris, Aug. 24, 2015, upon awarding them the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, for subduing a gunman on a train. Photo Credit: Tech Sgt. Ryan Crane