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There's A Problem, And We Mean To Fix It
Prepared Remarks of Togo D. West Jr., secretary of the Army, and Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, USA, Army chief of staff, Senate Armed Services Committee, Tuesday, February 04, 1997

Defense Issues: Volume 12, Number 7-- There's A Problem, And We Mean To Fix It Sexual harassment and misconduct destroy the trust so vital between soldiers and commanders, and between the Army and American public. Zero tolerance is the Army's position, and it always will be.

 

Volume 12, Number 7

There's A Problem, And We Mean To Fix It

Prepared remarks by Togo D. West Jr., secretary of the Army, and Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, USA, Army chief of staff, to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Feb. 4, 1997.

 

West. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I welcome the opportunity to appear before you today to report on the recent incidents of sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground [Md.] and the progress the Army is making to eliminate sexual harassment and misconduct from our ranks.

This committee and the Department of Defense have shared concerns about sexual harassment in the armed forces for many years. The 1995 Defense Equal Opportunity Council Task Force on Discrimination and Sexual Harassment was the result of your concerns with DoD complaint procedures. As a result of that task force, all services have greatly improved complaint processing and safeguards for complainants. But we know good procedures are not enough. We will continue to work with you to ensure that our soldiers are treated with dignity and respect. We have made progress -- but there is a long road ahead.

On Nov. 7, 1996, the chief of staff of the Army and the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command reported to you in separate statements and to the American people that we had received allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground, allegations that struck at the very heart of the Army's traditional commitment to soldiers and threatened the bond of trust that we hold so dear. We took immediate action to ensure that the victims were properly cared for, that the rights of the accused were protected and that the specific incidents were addressed swiftly and appropriately.

Let me be clear: From the number and nature of the allegations, we in the Army have a problem of significant proportions. It is not clear yet what the entire list of corrective actions will turn out to be. We will come to that conclusion in time. What we know is that we have been entrusted with the lives and welfare of American sons and daughters. We know we must not -- and we will not -- fail that trust.

Let me state in my own words and in the clearest terms the Army's policy on sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is unacceptable conduct. As Secretary of Defense William Cohen recently stated, "There is zero tolerance for sexual harassment. It is not tolerable." That has always been our position, and that will always be our position. Sexual harassment runs counter to the values we teach our soldiers and demand in our leaders. Sexual harassment is not compatible with the Army's traditional beliefs in individual professionalism and respect for others. It has no place in our Army.

The Army is an organization that is based on trust -- the trust of the American people that we will defend them and the trust of our soldiers that their leaders will do what is best for them. Sexual misconduct involving rape not only is an impediment to that trust, it is criminal. Conduct involving sexual harassment and misconduct in all its forms is an assault upon the traditions of the Army and the values of every American and cannot and will not be tolerated by our men and women in uniform.

What is alleged to have occurred at Aberdeen was particularly troublesome to us because it involved abuses of authority and it appeared that the incidents either had gone unreported or were not addressed. We initiated a series of actions to determine how this happened and how our system is working throughout the Army.

First, the Criminal Investigation Command immediately investigated each and every criminal allegation. On Nov. 7, 1996, we established a toll-free hotline number for our soldiers to use to report instances of sexual harassment and misconduct. As of Jan. 30, 1997, 6,979 calls had been placed to the hotline. Since the inception of the hotline, 1,025 calls have been referred to CID. CID has committed to contacting the complainants within five days of receiving the referral.

In addition, CID was directed to personally interview every female soldier currently stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground as well as every female soldier who had trained at that post in the previous two years. Of the 990 female soldiers in this category, approximately 800 have been contacted and interviewed. This comprehensive investigation allows us to uncover the circumstances surrounding these events, and we will follow those leads wherever they take us.

Second, I directed the Department of the Army inspector general to review and assess the sexual harassment policies and procedures at basic and advanced individual training sites throughout the Army training base.

Concurrently, the inspector general is conducting an inspection of the equal opportunity and sexual harassment training we provide all soldiers during their initial entry training. This special inspection is focusing on the training new soldiers receive on sexual harassment and equal opportunity, the avenues for complaints that are open to those soldiers and the reporting systems that are in place to make sure that commanders hear the voices of soldiers who have complaints. This system must work, and it is important for all leaders to ensure that all our soldiers have complete knowledge of and confidence in this system.

Third, we convened a Senior Review Panel on Sexual Harassment, which we are pleased to note that you, Mr. Chairman, endorsed and have strongly supported. The panel is undertaking a comprehensive review of the present human relations environment in the Army and the policies and procedures that contribute to that environment. The panel is in the process of visiting 35 installations in the United States and 11 sites overseas, collecting information from focus groups, individual interviews and surveys. Their data-gathering efforts will be completed by the end of April 1997, and by June 13, 1997, they will provide recommendations on what is necessary to create an environment in which all Army soldiers and civilians are treated with dignity and respect. This assessment of the Army's human relations environment is unprecedented in scope and breadth, and we anticipate that we will learn a great deal about our Army as the panel conducts its review.

Let me address the issue of accountability. All of us -- including the secretary of the Army -- are accountable for the Army's actions with respect to its soldiers. That accountability matters to you, the American people and the Army. As you are aware, the secretary of the Army has a role in the military justice system and must take care not to prejudice, or even be perceived to prejudice, the investigation or disposition of any individual case.

I want to make it clear here and now that while we will not tolerate sexual abuse in America's Army, neither will we abridge the rights of soldiers accused in these matters or otherwise prejudge the results of our investigation and inquiry. We have acted quickly to stop the harm and help the victims. Conversely, we will act deliberately in sifting the facts before we assign punishment or assess blame. Each case must be judged on its own merits. That is what you expect of us, and it is the entitlement of each individual.

The inspector general's review and the work of the senior review panel are efforts specifically directed by me in response to the events at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Both of these efforts are outside the purview of local commanders and as such, will provide an independent review of the programs that local commanders currently have in place.

The Army, however, is not simply awaiting the results of these investigations. We are moving forward to address the issue of sexual harassment in other ways. The chief of staff has ordered all major commanders to complete a chain teaching program on sexual harassment and has placed renewed emphasis on the process that selects and educates those soldiers who will lead and instruct our trainees. His concern, and his emphasis on the need to prevent sexual harassment, is absolutely vital if we are to solve this problem.

We will continue our candid reporting and honest assessment of what we are doing and how we are doing it. These events -- the allegations and the misconduct they imply -- cut to the very heart of an Army that prides itself on taking care of its own, living life honorably and performing its duty with integrity and courage. The Army values that every soldier must embrace -- courage, candor, competence and commitment -- cannot be destroyed by the actions of a few. We will correct these failures, and we will go on to be an even better Army in the coming century than we have been in the more than two centuries of service to our nation.

Let us not overlook an essential fact: Our enlisted leaders are and always have been the heart of our Army. Their tradition of professionalism and of caring about those whom they lead are key factors in our Army's reputation as the best in the world. Our drill sergeants and cadre of instructors are responsible for teaching and mentoring the next generation of American soldiers. In the long history of our Army, they have done so superbly. For those few who may be guilty of misconduct or who would encourage or condone sexual harassment, we will take appropriate action. Most importantly, for every soldier in our ranks today and all those who will come after, we are determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure these events never happen again.

I have said that the Army depends on people trusting each other. Let me state for the record my immense and unwavering confidence in the talent, integrity and professionalism of our Army leadership. Starting with the chief of staff of the Army and extending to the most junior team leader, you, I and every American can be proud of the job these leaders do day in and day out to train and lead soldiers in the defense of our country. The great body of Army leaders, including the vast majority of drill sergeants and instructors, have given nothing but exceptional service during their military careers. They have earned and deserve our unwavering trust.

The Army is determined to eradicate all forms of discrimination and harassment. Our goal is to create an institutional climate in which soldiers and civilians are treated with dignity and respect. Toward that goal, we will instill in each soldier and leader the values that foster consideration for others and respect for individual rights.

I appreciate the interest, support and input of the committee as we work together to resolve these difficult issues. I look forward to reporting back to you the results of our review.

 

Reimer. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, it is a privilege for me to appear before you to report on any issue concerning the Army, even on one as troublesome as sexual harassment. I will provide you an assessment of how we have responded, and I assure you that the Army's senior leadership, led by the secretary of the Army, is committed to eliminating sexual harassment and sexual misconduct across the

total Army. We have been as forthright as possible, and we are taking the steps necessary to rid the Army of a plight that detracts from morale and readiness, and most importantly, erodes basic human dignity.

All soldiers are entitled to outstanding leadership and a quality of life that embraces respect up and down the chain of command and within our ranks. We are fully committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all soldiers -- one that respects the right of every individual to work in a climate free from sexual harassment and abuse, and an environment where every soldier is free to surface a grievance or report an infraction without fear of reprisals or threats. The philosophy I use with commanders and soldiers has served me well for over 34 years of service in our Army. It is simple, but focuses on the individual importance of every man and woman who has taken the oath to defend freedom and the American way of life by serving in our Army. First, do what's right, legally and morally, every day. Second, create an environment that permits everyone to be all they can be. And finally, follow the "golden rule," treat others as you would have them treat you.

We will deal with this issue head-on, not only because public scrutiny compels us, but also because the very idea that any soldier is forced to endure an act of sexual harassment is absolutely contrary to the basic principles that define the United States Army as a values-based institution. Duty, honor, courage, loyalty, integrity, respect and selfless service are the core values that define the essence of every soldier's character. However, the responsibility goes much deeper than that.

Those of us serving in the Army today are caretakers with a solemn obligation to preserve this organization that has served our nation and guarded its freedom for over 221 years. I don't want anyone to misunderstand that ultimately this issue must be and will be resolved by those of us wearing the uniform. We spent too much time helping make this Army what it is today to back away from what's required to make it even stronger.

To accomplish this vital task, we must openly and completely eliminate the circumstances that allow sexual harassment to take place. Sexual harassment in any form is repugnant to the Army's traditions and America's values. We have committed ourselves to providing an environment that is free of sexual harassment and free of the conditions that would spawn sexual misconduct. We will reaffirm our commitment to those principles by how we deal with the allegations that have been made.

We have approached this situation with a crystal clear message -- zero tolerance. Zero tolerance means that every Army leader will take immediate corrective action to address inappropriate conduct whenever and wherever it occurs. This might be as simple as ordering an offensive calendar off the wall, on-the-spot counseling of a group of soldiers for offensive comments, or as serious as preferring charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

As Secretary of Defense [William] Cohen recently said in an interview, "That zero means zero." The reason for zero tolerance is obvious in the military, where a premium is put on teamwork, and when that element is missing or lacking, it can often lead to failure of the mission, or even injury or death. The secretary continued, "It is not acceptable ... because a great deal depends on building [morale] and cohesion in units, and these are people who are going to be out putting their lives on the line, and we can't have that kind [of] conduct."

We will fix any menacing environment that intimidates soldiers and prevents them from coming forward, and we will ensure that those who do report instances of sexual harassment are not ostracized for their actions. We will take care to ensure that those accused and subsequently cleared are not further penalized. Any sexual harassment infraction will be dealt with swiftly and in a rational and measured way. Our approach is to instill values and develop a culture of respect for others regardless of race or gender.

Our concern is not only with losing the trust and confidence of the American people but also with allowing circumstances to continue that erode the very foundation of the Army. As a values-based institution, soldiers must have absolute trust and confidence in their leaders. Soldiers must trust that their leaders are selfless, objective, knowledgeable and dedicated to doing what is best for them, their unit and the Army. They must be confident that their leaders' decisions always support these same core values. In short, they must have confidence in the chain of command, and that confidence must be earned.

Trust and confidence are intangibles, but I guarantee you that without them, no organization, especially a military one, will be able to function and work as it should. Military leaders potentially have to make life and death decisions that affect their soldiers through the orders they issue. At the critical time when orders need to be followed without question, doubt and lack of confidence in the chain of command will cause casualties.

Confidence and trust engender discipline, which saves lives. The circumstances that foster trust and confidence must prevail. Leader-subordinate relationships defined by these tenets are absolute and essential to mission accomplishment. It is no exaggeration to say that this is what makes the actions of those who use their leadership positions to sexually harass soldiers in their charge so repugnant.

We have a legitimate responsibility to fix any circumstances and climate that permits sexual harassment to occur. We are well aware that the Army's reputation has been tarnished by the allegations of sexual misconduct. We will conduct thorough and complete investigations of the allegations; if allegations are true, we will discipline individuals involved; and we will conduct an in-depth examination of any institutional climate that abetted these acts. To do anything less would further erode the institution we are so ardently striving to preserve and which we are so proud of.

We have begun several initiatives, and I would like to discuss them with you. Some of these programs were in place before the recent allegations surfaced, others are in direct response.

As the Army's chief of staff for the past 19 months, I have preached values to soldiers at every opportunity, but particularly by speaking to all of the battalion and brigade precommand courses at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. This course is attended by every lieutenant colonel and colonel commander selected to lead soldiers, including program managers and specialists, like physicians. I have continually highlighted the importance of caring for our soldiers and the commanders' solemn responsibility to create an environment in their units that sends the zero-tolerance message to their soldiers. This message is repeated at the Sergeants' Major Academy, where the future leaders of the Army's Noncommissioned Officer Corps are trained.

Additionally, we are conducting training on sexual harassment at all levels of institutional schooling to include initial entry; officer, warrant officer and noncommissioned officer basic and advance courses; first sergeant[s] and command sergeants major courses; Command and General Staff College and precommand courses. This experience is causing us to go back and review this instruction as well as add an additional course at the Army War College, where we had not taught it before.

I also tasked the deputy chief of staff for personnel to develop a "Chain Teaching" packet on sexual harassment, and I was personally involved in its preparation. In fact, the packet contains a videotape with a segment where the sergeant major of the Army and I personally introduce the subject. The major point we stress is that sexual harassment, in any form, will not be tolerated in the Army. Along with the tape, commanders receive slides with a prepared text. The training program explains what sexual harassment is, how individuals should handle a sexual harassment incident and the fact that sexual harassment in any form will not be tolerated in the Army.

The packet, which includes a segment that tells leaders how to conduct the training and outlines their specific responsibilities, was distributed to the field on Jan. 27, 1997. I have directed that all soldiers receive the training directly from their brigade or battalion commanders -- no lower. This is a chain-of-command issue, and that's why I'm charging commanders with the responsibility to deliver the message and set the climate in their units. Units are required to conduct the training by the end of March 1997 and will report back up through the chain of command when the training is complete. We recognize, however, that this issue is far more complex than this and plan to follow up with a more detailed sustainment program patterned after the successful "Consideration of Others" program implemented at West Point.

The sergeant major of the Army and I also have embarked on a program to visit Army installations where our drill sergeants train our young soldiers. As a former basic training company commander, I know that life in our training centers is stressful, particularly for those great drill sergeants. The purpose of our visits is twofold: first, to let them know that I have the greatest respect and admiration for all they do and that we know that 99+ percent are the Army's best. Second, we need to reaffirm to them and ensure they know they have our full support in their vital mission. We cannot let the alleged misconduct of a few detract from the absolutely superb job being done by the finest trainers in the world. There has been no fanfare associated with these visits, but by word-of-mouth the story is getting out.

We need to instill in our soldiers a basic belief that soldiers take care of each other regardless of race or gender. We must ensure that respect for the chain of command is absolute and that that respect has been duly earned. We ask soldiers to sacrifice many things, but we must never ask them to sacrifice their dignity. Soldiers must know they are respected, and commanders at all levels need to recognize the weight of their responsibility to care for their soldiers.

I firmly believe that we will come out of this a much stronger institution. The key to how well we do lies in two things. First, the chain of command must execute and set the example -- to do what's right legally and morally. Secondly, we have to re-emphasize the importance of values. One of those values is respect -- respect for the chain of command and for each other. We need to not only talk about it a lot, but also most importantly, we must exemplify it.

I often say that "soldiers are our credentials," because they truly are. They ask for so little, and they do so much for our Army and for the nation. As Gen. Creighton W. Abrams [former Army chief of staff] once said, "People are not in the Army, people are the Army."

Our soldiers -- the nation's credentials -- deserve every ounce of respect and admiration that we can give them. They are entitled to duty and living conditions free of harassment and prejudices of any kind. I am committed to this, the Army's leadership is committed to this, and we will intensively focus our efforts and resources on delivering a quality environment for America's sons and daughters so they can be all that they can be.

 

Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/index.html.