‘Protecting our people protects our mission’

The 902nd Military Intelligence Group decorated shoes worn by survivors of sexual assault and harassment. The display was part of the proclamation signing. (Photo by Maddie Ecker)

Every two minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.

That statistic, reported by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, includes service men and women.

The Department of Defense’s 2015 fiscal report on sexual assault and harassment in the military indicated that there were 6,083 reports involving service members as either victims or perpetrators.

On Monday morning, Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard, Garrison Command Sgt. Maj Brian S. Cullen and other installation leaders signed the 2017 proclamation at the Post Theater, marking the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month at Fort Meade.

Sgt. 1st Class Christina Pearson, Fort Meade’s Sexual Assault Response coordinator, announced this year’s theme: “Protecting our people protects our mission.”

“The Department of Defense observes Sexual Assault Awareness Month by focusing on creating the appropriate culture to eliminate sexual assault and requires a personal commitment for all service members at every level,” she said.

“We all have a part in combating sexual assault, and SAAPM offers an excellent opportunity to focus attention on our individual roles.

“We all have a role in preventing sexual assault.”

It Stops With Me

The ceremony started with a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention presentation.

A cart piled with packs of printer paper was rolled onto the stage.

“According to recent studies, an estimated 20,300 active-service members are sexually assaulted,” Pearson said. “Each sheet of paper represents a service member.”

As Pearson read sexual assault and harassment statistics, service members brought out more packs of paper to signify the number of people affected.

“What are you doing at your level to prevent and mitigate all occurrences of sexual harassment and sexual assault?” Pearson asked the audience. “I challenge you not only to know your part, but to do your part.”

As part of the presentation, representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps spoke about sexual assault and harassment.

“Sexual assault and sexual harassment is a problem,” said 1st Sgt. James West of Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center. “Mothers and fathers of our nation have trusted their sons and daughters to our military.

“If you’re thinking about sexually harassing or sexually assaulting one of my Soldiers, think again. It stops with me — not in my squad, not in my formation and not in the Army.”

Chelsea Wiggins, a College and Prevention Policy attorney at Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or MCASA, spoke about the Sexual Assault Legal Institute, or SALI, and Maryland legislation concerning sexual assault and harassment.

“Sexual assault can impact every aspect of a survivor’s life,” Wiggins said. “SALI is there to help survivors seek justice and access compassionate care in whatever way we can.

“SALI is here to serve all survivors, including members of the military.”

Wiggins encouraged the audience to attend sexual assault trainings and seek out guidance on how to handle sexual assault legal questions from SALI and MCASA attorneys.

Battlefield Conditions

Before signing the proclamation, Rickard addressed the crowd.

Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard is the first to sign the Sexual Assault Awareness Month proclamation on Monday morning at the Post Theater. (Photo by Bryan Spann/Meade TV)

“It’s real easy to say, ‘Don’t commit sexual assault’ at 9 o’clock on a Monday morning with a cup of coffee.” he said

“We’re trying to get into the battlefield conditions when the assault is happening and [that’s] usually at night and with somebody that you know. It’s not a stranger in an alley with a knife. We know that.”

Rickard discussed the core values that unite the different military services: respect, integrity and honor.

“We want to implore throughout our ranks, from the lowest level to the highest level, to just remember those values and to be able to make the hard decisions when the conditions change,” he said.

After signing the proclamation, Rickard and Cullen presented a certificate of appreciation to Wiggins.

“My hope [for this month] is that we get the word out there that there is a program for survivors,” Pearson said. “We won’t tolerate sexual assault and sexual harassment in our ranks.”

Fort Meade Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month Events

April 7: “Strike Out Sexual Assault” event, hosted by 704th MI Brigade at The Lanes from 11 a.m. to noon, noon-1 p.m., 1-2 p.m.

April 11: “Lap-A-Loop,” hosted by 902nd MI Group at Mullins Track at 10:45 p.m.

April 21: SHARP Motorcycle Ride, hosted by Kimbrough at the Parade Field parking lot at 10 a.m.

April 25: Victim Advocate Appreciation Luncheon at McGill Training Center from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

April 26: Kimbrough Denim Day Walk at Burba Lake from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

April 26: Dr. Hopper Presentation, hosted by INSCOM Units at the Post Theater from 12:30-4p.m.

April 27: Amazing Race (SHARP Edition) at the Parade Field from 6:30-8 a.m.

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