'Sisters in Arms' combat sexual assault
POSTED: Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 10:19am
UPDATED: Sunday, February 24, 2013 - 10:22am
Fort Bliss, TX — Female Soldiers from the 402nd Field Artillery Brigade who met in the unit’s dayroom Feb. 6 were not sure what to expect at the unit’s first “Sisters in Arms” meeting.
One sergeant first class said she thought it was more Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, or SHARP training, as they just had their annual training the Friday before.
The Sisters in Arms program is something new the Army has adapted. The purpose is to educate, train, mentor and empower service women to become future leaders. Sgt. 1st Class Sherri Silas is the brigade’s designated Sisters in Arms program facilitator and explained the basis of the program.
“My goal for our first session was to introduce the program to them, and encourage them to share some of their experiences,” said Silas. “The whole idea is to encourage communication between senior female officers and noncommissioned officers to junior female officers and Soldiers.”
Silas considers this a great opportunity for everyone to learn from and help each other.
“It’s just a matter of building trust and getting everyone involved,” she said.
The idea for the program came from 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division as they developed a forum for female soldiers to help enhance the avenues of mentorship and empowerment to help each other reach their full potential. Over the years women in the military have faced many adversities such as sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender discrimination. While some women have been able to overcome any challenges and rise through the ranks, others may not have been able to and would benefit from the mentorship of those successful female leaders.
The program spread through Army Central Command and is hitting Army-wide. Units across Fort Bliss are holding their initial meetings.
After going over the program’s only Powerpoint slide, Silas explained to the group that this program wasn’t supposed to be the typical “death-by-Powerpoint” training.
“It’s a chance for us to talk openly; nothing is off limits, no names will be taken,” she said, opening the floor for discussion.
When she was met with silence, she shared a personal story. After that, individual after individual began sharing their stories. They talked about different things from services on Bliss to past experiences in the military and life in general.
While her presence might have made the group a bit hesitant at first, the brigade commander, Col. Carolyn Birchfield, amiably joined in the discussion, sharing her experiences, and the tension lifted and more people started sharing.
Birchfield told the group she believes the program is important because it gives them a rare opportunity to share both professional and personal experiences with one another.
“I have used this program in other formations that I’ve been a part of and it’s been an incredibly powerful forum to further build our bonds with each other and serve as mentors for our younger Soldiers,” Birchfield said. “Part of our charter as leaders is obviously to serve as role models and if you looked around the room, all of us come from different backgrounds, but all have unique qualities that can benefit the group as a whole.”
Female soldiers of the 402nd are definitely diversified—not only are they different ranks from specialist to colonel, but they are also Reservists, and active guard and reserve (AGR) Soldiers, in addition to active-duty.
For their first-ever meeting, Silas said she thought it went well.
“Everyone was a bit nervous at first, but now I think they know what to expect for next time,” Silas said. “Some came up to me and offered suggestions for the next meeting already. It really comes down to the idea that you only get out of training what you put into it, and I’m excited about how this program will evolve for us.”