Seven soldiers to present their ideas on improving the Army’s program targeting sexual assault
By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 18, 2021
WASHINGTON— Seven soldiers have been chosen to present their ideas next week as part of the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps’ attempt to find solutions for eliminating sexual assault and harassment in the service, the corps announced Thursday.
The soldiers were chosen from among 41 submissions to the corps’ “Dragon’s Lair” program that is styled after the “Shark Tank” television show for entrepreneurs, according to a news release. The ideas from soldiers are focused on improving or revising the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, also known as SHARP.
The soldiers range in rank from sergeant to lieutenant colonel. Ideas to be presented include virtual reality training with scenarios to build empathy, a competition to create scenario-based videos to eliminate power point training, and changing the SHARP program to include allowing soldiers to report to SHARP representatives outside of their unit.
The corps launched the Dragon’s Lair program in October in an effort encourage soldiers to find new ideas to address inefficiencies across the Army. Winning ideas to date have included a smart phone application that streamlines the often-bureaucratic processes of booking and managing weapons ranges and a time-saving forklift trailer attachment with multiple uses.
The idea for this topic developed after Lt. Gen. Erik Kurilla, the commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, held focus groups about how to end sexual assault and harassment in the corps and heard from soldiers who had solutions and ideas, said Col. Joseph Buccino, a spokesman for the corps.
“For us, this is about big change rather than change on the margins of the existing programs,” Buccino wrote in an email. “Those grand ideas are already living within the corps. In many cases, they are trapped within Army bureaucracy and buried under process and structure. We want to bring them out and then implement them across the entire corps.”
Originally, only two soldiers were going to be selected to present their ideas to the panel, but due to the number of submissions, the corps decided to expand the list, according to the corps.
The crowdsourcing approach for ideas on how to improve the Army’s SHARP program is the latest attempt by the Army -- and the military overall -- to find new ways to address the sexual assault crisis.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a review of the military’s sexual assault and harassment prevention efforts. Top uniformed leaders for each of the Pentagon’s five military services recently submitted internal reviews of their service prevention policies to Austin, said John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman. The effort is part of a 90-day commission that President Joe Biden has ordered to find solutions to sexual assault in the military, according to Austin’s memo from Jan. 23 about the review.
The soldiers will present their ideas on Feb 22 to a panel that includes the 18th Airborne Corps’ command team, the deputy director from the Army’s People First Task Force and other leaders in the corps with experience in handling sexual assault and harassment.
The People First Task Force was created in response to findings and recommendations listed in the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee report launched in the wake of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s killing in April at the Texas base. The committee found a command climate and culture that was permissive of sexual assault and harassment as a result of poor leadership.
After the presentations, the panel will decide how to implement each idea across the corps’ 14 installations and 92,000 soldiers, according to the corps. The People First Task Force deputy director will also determine what ideas can be implemented Army-wide, Buccino said.
The timeline for implementing the concepts will vary from one day such as a policy change to six months or longer for coding an app or procuring technology, Buccino said. For the remaining submissions, the corps has already started the process of implementing elements from 29 of the 41 ideas that the unit received, he said.
These are the soldiers selected and the ideas that they will present:
2nd Lt. Hannah Alderete, assigned to 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, recommends creating compelling SHARP training by asking students at top U.S. film schools to compete to produce the best content. Hannah drew on her experience as a freshman mentor at Claremont McKenna College in California to develop a program whereby the nation’s top five film schools compete to create a compelling, emotional scenario-based 30-minute video that will replace power point SHARP training.
Capt. Jillian Collins, assigned to 3rd Infantry Division, recommends more command group involvement in SHARP training, and the implementation of systems that would allow commanders to provide greater support to victims of sexual harassment or assault.
Staff Sgt. Shameka Dudley, assigned to 525th Military Intelligence Brigade, recommends creating virtual reality SHARP training during which soldiers would be “virtually” put in the place of individuals who are being sexually harassed so they witness what other soldiers might see or go through daily.
1st Lt. Alexandra Elison, assigned to XVIII Airborne Corps, recommends a three-tiered revamp to the SHARP program that includes giving soldiers the option to report cases to SHARP representatives outside of their units, minimizing the opportunity for soldiers to use SHARP as a manipulation tool, and providing military investigators with more resources.
Capt. Christopher Higgins, assigned to 101st Airborne Division, recommends the development of a single Army/Defense Department-wide digital application to host all programs of record, installation services offered, and relevant unit information that would integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning to augment data.
Sgt. Taylor Knueven, assigned to 101st Airborne Division, recommends molding the SHARP program into something meaningful that encourages peer-on-peer pressure to do the right thing and features transparency by presenting statistics on SHARP-related incidents within units.
Lt. Col. Scott Stephens, a battalion commander assigned to 3rd Infantry Division, recommends creating "Dragon Guardian," a program focused on educating and empowering junior leaders and creating "SHARP ambassadors,” and implementing a formal leader certification process. Scott is the co-author of the 2020 book “Athena Thriving” on the subject of combatting sexual harassment and discrimination in the Army.