Sergeant Major of the Army on sexual assault: Commitment to 'Army profession' required
Joint Base Andrews, MD (Army News Service) — "We have challenges when it comes to sexual assault, because from my perspective, we're not really sure what the Army profession, character and commitment is all about," said the Army's top enlisted Soldier.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler spoke during the sixth annual Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention summit here, June 11.
"Character is what you're doing when no one is looking," Chandler said, explaining one aspect of the Army profession. "Commitment is looking out for your fellow Soldier and doing what the Army says you're supposed to do."
Chandler said when he conducts town hall meetings with Soldiers, he usually asks them if they know what the Army profession is about. He said in most cases he gets just a few responses to his question from every hundred or so Soldiers in attendance.
"We need to focus on [the Army profession] across the force," he said. "Our Soldiers generally don't get it, or are not even aware of it."
Chandler explained how he helps Soldiers in the town hall meetings "get it" by using a simple analogy.
"I ask them have you ever had something stolen from you in the barracks?" he said.
Hundreds of Soldiers raise their hands, he said. He asks them how they feel about having something stolen from them, knowing that in most cases the thief was a fellow Soldier.
Chandler said Soldiers at the town hall express anger at the thefts they experienced. A typical reply, he said, is that Soldiers say they "lost trust" in their fellow Soldiers. He also said Soldiers report a loss of trust in their leadership as well, because they say their leadership inevitably "didn't do anything about it" once a theft was reported.
Chandler then follows up with another question that gets to the heart of sexual assault.
"Why aren't you furious that someone's dignity and respect, which you can't buy back, were taken away?"
Chandler said when he asks that question, he sees Soldiers' faces light up with understanding.
Chandler said the Army needs to put sexual assault into terms that Soldiers can understand.
"They need to hear from each and every one of us personally, out of the office and in small groups, what this means to be a professional and why sexual assault is such a bad thing," he said.
For years, the Army and the other services have studied sexual assault, have held classes, and have used slide presentations to illustrate why it must be eliminated. But those tactics have not worked, Chandler said, saying the problem goes even deeper.
Delegating the responsibility to squad leaders and junior non-commissioned officers also isn't enough, he said, speaking to an audience of some 200 sergeants major and senior officers at the summit.
"Soldiers say 'look, we don't see senior-level involvement. We know something happened but from our perspective, that (sexual assault that occurred) has just faded away.'"
Chandler said senior leaders must have the courage to say that a sexual assault happened and that it was investigated. They must also explain the outcome.
"We don't have to destroy someone's dignity to do this," he said. "But we owe it to our Soldiers to say this is what happened and here's what we did."
Chandler said Soldiers need leadership involvement behind the issue as a way to illustrate how important it is.
"At the end of the day, those young Soldiers want leadership, purpose, direction, motivation, and understanding that we love them and we're committed to them," he said. "It takes an Army of action, and a non-commissioned officer corps willing to do its part."
In conclusion, Chandler said the Army is held to a higher standard by American society. If Soldiers are unwilling to make the culture shift, he said, Congress will do it for them.