FORT LEE, Va. (April 29, 2015) — Fort Lee’s 59th Ordnance Brigade is using a new strategy in its efforts to eradicate sexual assault and sexual harassment from its ranks.
Called the Peer-to-Peer Mentorship Program, it is a preventative initiative designed around the Army’s broader strategy to change the culture that contributes to the problem.
“The Peer-to-Peer Mentorship Program is based on the Department of Defense 2014-2016 Sexual Assault Prevention Strategy,” said Lauren Barboza, sexual assault victim advocate, 59th Ord. Bde. “It requires informal leaders at the most basic level to promote healthy relationships within the ranks.”
The 59th Ord. Bde. is the training element of the U.S. Army Ordnance School, a subordinate of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command headquartered at Fort Lee. It is responsible for training roughly 28,000 advanced individual training Soldiers annually.
Student-led and student-managed, PTP targets initial entry Soldiers who are appointed to positions such as student sergeant major, first sergeant, master sergeant, etc. Those Soldiers are charged with taking an accountable role in helping to create work and living environments more conducive to good order and discipline.
“It shows that positive relationships between peers and partners enhance a healthy climate and reduce negative behavior,” said Barboza. “Our goal is to reduce those negative behaviors on the low end of the continuum that might lead to sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Delta Company, 16th Ord. Battalion, was the first brigade element to implement the program in late January, said Barboza, roughly two months before Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey announced the “Not in My Squad” initiative that encourages junior leaders to take ownership of solutions.
In the first reporting period after PTP was implemented, Delta Co. logged no complaints or incidents, said Barboza. “Certainly, the most objective measurement is zero-reported incidents,” she said. The second indicator of progress was based on the feedback she received from the students, who she said were quick to deal with any problems.
“If behaviors were identified, they were addressed at the appropriate level, and the individuals who were behaving in a manner inconsistent with Army values were challenged by the student leaders,” said Barboza.
Delta Co. noncommissioned officers also played a role in the matter, said Barboza.
“The Soldiers (student leaders) are letting their NCOs know they are taking care of issues at the lowest level,” she said, noting platoon sergeants and unit victim advocate NCOs provide oversight of the program. “The NCOs are there to ensure those issues that are being addressed are issues that should be taken care of at the lowest level and not issues they need to correct by way of their authority.”
There was sufficient progress in Delta, said Barboza, to conclude “Soldiers at the lowest level can look out for one another in a manner that will stop behaviors leading to sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Spc. Michael Richardson, student first sergeant at Delta Co., said the effort requires commitment and vigilance.
“It’s not an easy task,” said the 30-year-old New Jersey native. “We collectively come together to talk about the things going on in each class, and when we see something that isn’t right, we use each other to police it up.”
In starting the PTP in Delta Co., students were required to establish goals based on the I. A.M. Strong program, then meet weekly to assess any occurrences or issues — without the presence of cadre.
“They take a look back at that week and talk about how they behaved and ways to improve their behaviors that are not consistent with Army values,” said Barboza. “They also talk about strategies that will allow them to continue to hold each other accountable for their own behaviors.”
Richardson said the issues he has dealt with include everything from students pulling nametapes off of uniforms, to horseplay to conversations that might sound inappropriate. Communicating what is right at any first indication is critical to the program’s success.
“Once we communicate that we do not tolerate this behavior, the expectation is for it to stop,” he said. “We hold each other accountable for that.
“That’s the point,” he added.
Aside from making corrections, there is a difference between a Soldier telling a fellow Soldier he or she is out of line versus an NCO doing the same. Delta Co.’s Spc. Kevin Taylor said peers affect each other differently.
“When someone closer to you or embedded next to you tells you something, you take it more to heart than when it comes from someone who is perceived as speaking at you,” said the student master sergeant.
Having been a part of the student leadership for about two weeks, Taylor said the PTP message can prevail.
“I feel when you have Soldiers who are committed to doing the right thing — spreading the message amongst peers in a friend-to-friend manner, and showing them it’s not necessarily a chore to speak out when something is wrong — it can work,” he said.
Only time will tell if the program is sufficiently effective, said Barboza. A supportive leadership, initiative on the part of the students and motivation on the part of students and cadre are important to its success.
Additionally, it is unrealistic to think the program will change the brigade’s culture overnight, but it could be an important component in the brigade’s long-term SHARP strategy, said Barboza.
“We’re not going to give up on this,” she said. “We’re going to keep working at it and use all that is at our disposal to make sure Soldiers understand their involvement is essential to creating an environment free from inappropriate conduct or behavior that leads to sexual misconduct.”
Since Delta Co. implemented its program, two more companies in the brigade have come online.
The plan is to implement PTP in the remaining nine companies by the end of May, said Barboza.
Additionally, all Soldiers will be briefed on the program upon their arrival to units. “It is our goal to sustain this program as Soldiers come and go,” said Barboza.