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November 23, 2011
By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs Office

FORT LEE, Va. (Nov. 23, 2011) -- The Army has rolled out an innovative new training program aimed at all Initial Entry Training Soldiers.

The new training model, first tested this past spring at Fort Lee and Fort Benning, Ga., is a result of a collaborative effort between Headquarters Army G-1 and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

The new training model is part of the SHARP Program Office's efforts to facilitate cultural change during the third of four phases under the "I A.M. Strong" campaign launched in 2008 to tackle sexual harassment and sexual assault issues through training, awareness and intervention.

Phase III builds upon phase II of the campaign that sought to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault from an ownership standpoint, emphasizing Soldiers' roles as stakeholders in their own well-being.

"It is our goal to aggressively indoctrinate all new recruits and first-term Soldiers enlisting in the Army that 'This is the Army's expectation of how Soldiers should act accordingly in this new community,'" said Carolyn Collins, Department of the Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program Office division chief.

The new training brings a synergy of effort for sustained learning, said Collins.

"It really is meant to change attitudes of behavior and achieve a common understanding of the way ahead with a commitment by the individuals who attend the course," she said.

The new training goes far beyond the PowerPoint presentations of the old "Prevention of Sexual Assault" instruction, the forerunner of the current training and the annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training. IET Soldiers undergo about 90 minutes of interactive learning called Sex Signals and 90 minutes of instruction presented by the Basic Officer Leaders Course, or BOLC-B cadre. Additionally, the cadre members attend a separate training session equal in length.

Also, cadre members are provided guides to continue the discussion beyond the instructional session. The cadre do a check on learning throughout the program of instruction, which provides the new leaders an opportunity to use their critical decision-making skills and model the skill sets required by leaders to address this problem.

"Those requirements represent a change in emphasis versus the previous training, which outlived its effectiveness," said Collins. "It was more risk-reduction training -- travel with your battle buddy, watch your drinking, etc. -- to assess your risk to assault and take action."

The new training model is predicated on "How do we prevent the offenders from offending in the first place?" said Collins, "(The idea is to) create a cultural climate where it is not conducive for them to operate in our community and where Soldiers set standards for conduct and accountability."

The Basic Officer Leaders Course at the Army Logistics University was chosen as a pilot because many of the students will assume leadership positions upon graduation and will have the most pervasive effect in changing the culture, said Collins.

Roughly 60 students and 10 cadre members attended the Sex Signals training on Nov. 16, the week the instruction was implemented Army-wide. It seemed to lack any comparison to the former training and was strikingly frank.

"We're young lieutenants, and we're going to be dealing with young privates," said 2nd Lt. Matthew Vishnevsky. "I thought it was realistic. It uses the kind of language and kinds of actions that people our age use. I thought it was great."

Sex Signals might be described as part stand-up comedy, part skit and part question-and-answer session. The actors began the presentation with a routine fashioned to loosen up the crowd, using language more evocative of an MTV reality show than Army training.

As the show progressed, the comedy remained, but the content became stronger. The actors portrayed characters in scenes involving consensual sexual contact and sexual assault. Oftentimes, the actors would stop in the middle of a scene and solicit responses from the audience.

"What you get at that point is the audience interacting and checking each other," said Collins. "They're saying, 'This is what I would have done differently' or 'I have a question; when did that become rape?' So it's not just the instructors; you suddenly have the audience setting the standards of conduct. That's what we're trying to encourage."

Second Lt. Edward Poppe said the structure of the presentation enabled him to place himself under some of the same circumstances, allowing him to think through the actions he might or might not take.

"You can actually see yourself being put in a situation like that," he said. "And if you see it, you know what to do to avoid it for yourself so that you're not that guy."

Poppe said the most critical lesson he learned during the training was that sexual assault is not typically a "dark-alley kind of offense."

"I learned that it's an average-Joe kind of thing," he said, "and it could happen to a buddy. I have a better understanding of what it is."

The training is built around 10 rules, said Collins. "We have scenarios built around those rules. (The students are) given a situation and asked what rule applies and how they would handle the situation. It improves their skill set."

Collins said improving skills can help change culture and changing the culture can reduce incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

"Our campaign goals and metrics are to bring down sexual assaults by 75 percent," she said, "and bring up the propensity to report crimes to 90 percent and then continue down that path.

"What we're really trying to do is close the gap between the actual number of assaults in the Army and what is being reported."

About six percent of victims reported assaults in the Army within the past year, said Collins.

"We want to make sure everyone is comfortable coming forward and reporting the crime," she said, "That's in addition to getting the care they need across the board."