Story by: Lisa Ferdinando, ANS
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – There are some in the Army who may not yet fully appreciate the gravity of the sexual assault situation in the Army, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.
In a conference center June 10, Odierno addressed a room full of mostly two-, three- and even four-star generals at the start of the Army's two-day Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention summit.
"I will tell you, from the things I see, we still have people out there who tolerate sexual assault and sexual harassment," he said. "Until we solve that problem, it's going to get worse."
The general said leaders at all levels must address and understand that there is a problem of sexual abuse. It also is a problem, he said, when commanders don't think that sexual abuse is an issue within their own unit.
Odierno told reporters that the number of people now coming forward with reports of being sexually abused has surprised him and forced him to refocus efforts on the issue. Regarding sexual assault, the Army may have taken its "eye off the ball," he said.
"Maybe we have a bigger problem than I imagined," Odierno said.
The general said change starts from the top, with commands and Army leaders.
"You have to do what is right. You have to hold people accountable for their actions. That's the only way you are going to fix a problem," he said.
Odierno laid out five imperatives on which senior officers can focus, with regard to sexual assault.
First, he said, is to protect victims, provide care to them and protect their privacy. Also, he said, the Army must work to prevent sexual assaults from happening in the first place.
Second, he said, the Army must professionally investigate sexual assaults and take appropriate action based on the results of such investigations.
Third, the Army must "create an appropriate, positive command climate, where trust and respect are the cornerstone of what that command climate is about." Soldiers, he said, must trust that appropriate actions will be taken by their chain of command, and there must additionally be an "attitude of respect" among those who wear the uniform.
Fourth, the Army must hold accountable individuals, units, commanders and leaders.
Finally, he said, the chain of command must be "fully engaged, responsible for everything in their unit, and accountable for what goes on inside of that unit."
"We need trust. I talk about this all the time. It's critical to everything we do," said Odierno. "The things we are asked to do require trust, the ultimate trust, the trust that you can believe in anybody who wears this uniform, because you got to be there to save each other's lives under very chaotic conditions."
Odierno said a safe environment, free of sexual abuse, is not only imperative for Soldiers, but also for the Families who entrust their children to the Army.
"This is about the health and welfare of our sons and daughters, the sons and daughters of America's citizens," Odierno said. "I want them to be proud of sending their sons and daughters into the Army."