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News > Engineer brigade starts program to protect new Soldiers
Engineer brigade starts program to protect new Soldiers

Posted 9/12/2012   Updated 9/12/2012 Email story   Print story


by Chris McCann
JBER Public Affairs

9/12/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Statistically, the military population most at risk of being sexually assaulted is made up of females between the ages of 18 and 22, living in the barracks, within the first 90 days of reporting to their first duty station. In that time of transition, they are most vulnerable to predation.

Across the military, in 2011, slightly more than 3,000 cases of sexual assault were reported - and estimates indicate only a third are reported.

In an effort to eradicate sexual assault, the 2d Engineer Brigade on JBER has created the Transition Mentorship Program.

"When [former U.S. Army Alaska Commanding General] Maj. Gen. [Raymond] Palumbo was here, we would have meetings looking at personnel matters," said 2nd Engineer Brigade Commander Col. Thomas Roth. "One was sexual assault. We sat down and said 'we can do something - this is a finite group of young women,'" Roth said.

"It was an epiphany - I can't fix the world, but I know my Soldiers, I know their ages, I know their ranks, I know their living situation. We can do something about this."
The brigade is, like most of the Army, largely male.

Women make up only 13.6 percent of the Army overall, and in many units the percentage is smaller.

"If I'm an 18-year-old female Soldier, everything's new and overwhelming. I would want someone to talk to, to turn to," Roth said.

Female noncommissioned officers across the brigade - and especially in the 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion - rallied to the cause.

"I asked them to help me shape this," Roth said. "What does this program look like?"
Frequently, new Soldiers want to fit in, and give in to peer pressure, said Sgt. 1st Class Alison Humphrey, a native of Waukon, Iowa, and the brigade Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention representative.

There can be a sense of 'this is what we do,' she said. Barracks parties are common, but can be dangerous.

The program will provide a mentor for at least the first 90 days of a Soldier's time in
the unit - someone who will contact the troop to check on plans for the weekend and how things are going.

Army Staff Sgt. Connie Cordray, a native of Briggsville, Wis., is heading up the program in the 793rd Military Police Battalion.

"We want to have mentorship activities at least once a month," she said. The battalion is looking at opportunities for male and female Soldiers alike.

"We want go get out and go hiking, and build it up - build cohesive teams, then maybe a few teams go out and do things as a squad or as a platoon."

Sgt. 1st Class Deon Green, the brigade's Equal Opportunity advisor and a native of Fayetteville, N.C., said it's a way of returning to the basics of soldiering.

"We've got to integrate (the new troops)," she said. "You can lead them to water but you can't make them drink. You give them every opportunity to succeed - but they're grown people."

"When I heard about (the program), my first thought was that they put a name on what they did when I was a new Soldier," Humphrey said. "We're supposed to teach, coach and mentor all Soldiers. You know when something's wrong; we see the Soldiers all day. So you ask what's going on.

"I strive to be the NCO I wish I'd had."

Transition mentors will be female NCOs selected for maturity, interpersonal skills and reliability.
They're not sponsors - their role is not to show the new Soldier around post; they are to provide someone to turn to during the pressures of a new situation. They can also provide advice on places and situations to avoid in the local area.

Additionally, Roth said, just knowing that new Soldiers have someone looking out for them will be a disincentive to would-be attackers.

"It's a notice to predators that someone more senior is interested in [that Soldier's] well-being," he said.

"I think it's a great program," Humphrey said. "Eventually it will just take off."

Mentors are required to have at least a year remaining at JBER, Roth said in the policy letter. This ensures they will be around even after the 90-day mark. Those troops who were mentored can become mentors themselves, said Command Sgt. Maj. Antonio Jones, the brigade's senior enlisted advisor, thus propagating the program.

"As it grows, it's going to sell itself," Jones said. "It will start at one thing and grow into something bigger."

"To me, it's an enduring program," Roth said. "I don't know that I can have a lot of direct influence, but I want them to embrace it at a battalion level. It's geared to prevent sexual assault, but it's also professional development of the female Soldiers. The beauty of it is that senior female NCOs shaped the broader scope."

Getting a read on the success of the program is going to be less straightforward than with many other Army programs.

"It will be the stuff we don't see," Jones said, "Because people won't have the opportunity."

"When we have people say they're glad to have it, that's a measure of success," Roth said.

Often, assaults go unreported because there's a stigma with it, Green said.

"There can be a perception that nothing will be done," she said.

Soldiers - especially new troops or those who have been in trouble before - may feel that they will be blamed for the assault due to past problems.

That's no reason not to report assault, Green said.

The policy letter doesn't address male Soldiers, because statistically they're not the at-risk population, but they may be included.

"I would hope that in the broader view, male or female, they know the behavior itself is unacceptable," Roth said.

The 793rd MP Battalion is planning to include all new troops, male and female alike, and volunteer mentorship is encouraged for team leaders and above.

The battalion is kicking off their program with a day of activities - physical training in the morning, a pancake breakfast, and classes, followed by lunch, Cordray said. Civilian clothes will help foster integration.

Maintaining a comfortable, yet professional balance is key, Roth said; maintaining military bearing, but still having the ability to have an intimate conversation.

"Soldiering is basic humanity," Cordray said. "People just want someone to be there for them. If you listen and are loyal to them, they'll follow you."

Leaders hope that the program will inspire other units around JBER.

Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett, commander of U.S. Army Alaska, has asked for updates on the progress of the initiative, and Roth sees it as a likely opening for USARAK, with the engineer brigade as a test.

Ultimately, he said, it's all about protecting Soldiers.

"We want to make sure the first friendly face they see is someone who wants to take care of them, not take advantage of them."

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