Story by: Lisa Ferdinando, ANS
WASHINGTON – Sexual assault and harassment are serious problems the Army is vigorously addressing, said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.
Odierno testified during a four-hour hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, June 4, along with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, service chiefs from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, and six judge advocate generals.
"These crimes violate everything our Army stands for and they simply cannot be tolerated," Odierno told senators, as part of an oversight hearing on sexual assault and harassment in the services.
"As chief of staff of the Army, and as a parent of two sons and a daughter, the crimes of sexual assault and harassment cut to the core of what I care most about – the health and welfare of America's sons and daughters," he said.
He said the Army is focused on eliminating the problem.
"Two weeks ago, I told my commanders that combating sexual assault and sexual harassment within the ranks is our No. 1 priority," Odierno said. "I said that because as chief, my mission is to train and prepare our Soldiers for war. These crimes cut to the heart of the Army's readiness for war. They destroy the fabric of our force, Soldier and unit morale. We will fix this problem."
Odierno said the Army needs to do more, and laid out five areas of specific concern:
• Preventing potential offenders from committing sexual crimes
• Investigating and taking appropriate action with every sexual assault/harassment allegation
• Creating a climate where an individual is not afraid of retaliation or stigma for reporting a crime
• Ensuring individuals, units, organizations, and specifically commanders and leaders understand their responsibilities
• Ensuring the chain of command is at the center of any solution to combat sexual assault and harassment, and that it is also fully engaged
"We can and will do better," he told the senators. "We must take deliberate steps to change the environment. We must restore our people's confidence by improving our system of accountability."
Odierno said the military justice system was designed to give commanders the tools to reinforce good order by prosecuting misconduct with a variety of judicial and non-judicial punishments. He said commanders are able to prosecute crimes and punish minor infractions that contribute to discipline problems.
Odierno also said his experience leads him to believe the majority of the problems are the failure of some commanders and leaders to correctly administer military justice in compliance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and current Department of Defense policies.
"We must take a hard look at our system, from start to finish, to ensure that commanders and judge advocates are subject to appropriate checks and balances, all while protecting the interests of the victim and the due process rights of accused Soldiers," he said.
Odierno said in the last four years, 57 commanders have been relieved, with about half of those for command climate, which includes toxic leadership and an inability to have an environment that makes it clear that sexual assault and harassment will not be tolerated.
"It is up to every one of us – civilian, Soldier, general officer to private – to solve this problem within our ranks," Odierno said.
During the last 12 years, the Army has demonstrated "exceptional confidence, courage, and resiliency in adapting the force to the demands of war," Odierno said. The Army will tackle and fix the problem of sexual assault and harassment with the "same resolve."
As part of ongoing efforts, including in its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP, the Army has focused efforts intensely on preventing sexual assault and harassment, educating Soldiers, responding to reports of assault and harassment, and providing victims with support and resources.