FORT HOOD, Texas – Soldiers are required to undergo annual sexual assault and harassment training; however these classes are often Power Point based. In efforts to engage troops to participate in an open dialogue, Fort Hood is hosting new, interactive training meant to challenge the preexisting mindsets of soldiers.
To accomplish this, III Corps is hosting the Afterburner, a blunt and in-your-face Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program training, which is held monthly at Howze Auditorium here and allows for more than 350 soldiers to attend one of three sessions held throughout the day.
The Afterburner is taught by civilians to help individuals understand how society’s perceptions and derogatory words used to describe either gender can lead to sexual assault, said Sgt. 1st Class Tommica Hewlett, brigade SHARP for the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division and St. Andrews, Jamaica native.
“The Afterburner is all about changing people’s mindsets and the way we think, so we can treat others with dignity and respect,” Hewlett said. “It’s effective because it breaks away from the standard PowerPoint and gives a more realistic feel, as soldiers are able to verbalize their thoughts and communicate them.”
When service members have the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions, it allows leaders a better chance to gauge their soldiers mindsets and see what they’re really feeling on the inside, Hewlett said.
“This training allows soldiers the opportunity to use language and words they can’t say in a regular environment, so we can see what they’re thinking and help change their thoughts before they lead to actions,” Hewlett said. “In here we can teach them to change their perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. Hopefully then they can change their fellow battle buddies as well.”
Heather Imrie, Afterburner instructor with Catharsis Productions and Chicago native, teaches here monthly, and said the curriculum she delivers is something every individual can benefit from.
“We’re teaching human beings that they are responsible for their actions, and they have the power to make a difference,” Imrie explained. “Stereotypes objectify men and women, and I’m here to educate how negative and harassing language is detrimental to the climate of a workplace.”
Imrie said there’s a strong, proven correlation between negative verbal communication on a day-to-day basis, and the number of reported sexual incidents and crimes in a unit.
“The connection between negative language, sexual harassment, and sexual assault is very strong. There is six times greater odds of rape in units where sexual harassment is taking place. Language matters and how we talk to each other and communicate is extremely important.”
Pfc. Heidi Rodriguez, a Healthcare Specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st ACB and Chicago native, attended the training and said she will take back many of the lessons learned during the event.
“There are too many people out there who are victims,” Rodriguez noted. “Talking about it and exposing it gives comfort for victims to come forward. It was a big eye opener seeing how often incidents occur. Many soldiers think this is something that could never happen to them, but they need to be fully prepared because it’s out there.”