ARLINGTON, Va. - “We don’t allow sexual assault to happen within our ranks and we do not allow sexual harassment to happen within our ranks,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hertig, Equal Opportunity Advisor [EOA] and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator [SARC], 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).
Hertig has worked as The Old Guard’s EOA/SARC for more than two years and said proactive leadership and training plays a vital role in preventing sexual assault and harassment.
“The climate that allows sexual assault and sexual harassment is really dependent on the unit and the chain of command and how much they are involved,” said Hertig. “The people that are in leadership positions here make it very easy for soldiers to report issues as well as getting those issues solved quickly.”
Hertig said the regimental commander has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to such offenses and relies on his leadership at the lower levels to enforce it.
“At a minimum the first sergeant and the company commander take every allegation seriously and will handle it professionally,” said Hertig. “That also means going down into the platoons to make sure this kind of environment is not tolerated.”
Staff Sgt. Alexander Croteau, who assists Hertig if issues arise, experienced this first hand.
“When I was handling a case, the leadership made sure that we got everything taken care of,” said Croteau, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Unit Victim Advocate, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “They definitely want to know as much as they can so they can hold perpetrators accountable. Their biggest goal is to avoid revictimization and taking care of the victim and giving them any help that they need.”
However, Hertig said there is still more that can be done and that starts with getting away from the typical classroom training that tends to rely on PowerPoint instruction.
“We’re looking at some more interactive ways of doing things and potentially presenting a mock sexual assault trial so soldiers can understand the process. It will show everything from a person reporting to going through a court martial,” said Hertig.
Hertig hopes this will get soldiers to think twice about the repercussions of committing either crime.
“I don’t want our training to just be about how to avoid being sexual assaulted or sexually harassed but I want it to also how what it is and what can happen to you if you do either of those events,” said Hertig.
Hertig has also begun facilitating small group discussions in line with the Army’s mandated training surrounding the movie The Invisible War.
The Invisible War is a documentary film about sexual assault in the United States military and is told by those who were victims.
“The way we conduct the training is almost like a guided discussion. We show the video and there are certain points where we stop,” said Hertig. “Myself and a panel of professionals such as lawyers, victim advocates and SARCs pose questions to give the senior leaders, who will be responding to these cases, a full understanding of how we run the program as well as from a victim’s perspective.”
Hertig believes conducting the training in a more intimate setting will yield better results.
“It’s so easy to give the training to a mass of people at one time but not everybody is getting it,” said Hertig. “That’s why we are breaking it down into smaller groups. When you do it this way it allows for better interaction between the soldiers and the leaders they will be reporting this to.”
Hertig said preventive training isn’t just about doing something the Army said to do, but it’s ultimately about providing an atmosphere every soldier deserves.
“Soldiers should be able to go to work, do their job and achieve what they want to achieve,” said Hertig. “The commander is very serious about making sure he creates that climate.”