ARLINGTON, Va. – With teal-colored combat boots lining a section of the atrium of the Army National Guard Readiness Center here, soldiers from the Army National Guard kicked off this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month today.<br /> <br /> “It’s important to seize the opportunity to use an event like this to kick off awareness,” said Army Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons, acting director of the Army National Guard. “We’re responsible as leaders to set the standard and create that culture of dignity and respect. It doesn’t matter what your rank is.”<br /> <br /> To Lyons, resources applied toward training create a culture of continuous awareness.<br /> <br /> One example: A recent training program that two National Guard noncommissioned officers attended. Sgts. 1st Class Frederick Nicholas, Virginia National Guard, and Michael Kerkhoff, New Mexico National Guard, graduated March 28 from the first iteration of an eight-week pilot program that launched in January at the District of Columbia National Guard’s Regional Training Institute on Fort Belvoir, Va.<br /> <br /> The course was launched to better prepare sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates and trainers of the 80-hour SHARP course.<br /> <br /> “Not having in-depth knowledge as the rest of the class was a little challenging,” Kerkhoff said about the roughly 30-person class made up of mainly Army SARCs and VAs, “but I think we got caught up to speed pretty quickly.”<br /> <br /> For Nicholas, the pilot program made the material more tangible and provided a bridge between what program expectations were and what was happening in the SHARP community. “It’s important to get realistic training, and realistic expectations of what’s going to happen,” he said.<br /> <br /> Through various subject matter experts from offices including the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, the Inspector General and the Army Management Staff College, the course prepared participants to replace the current Mobile Training Team instructors, centralize the curriculum and establish a level of professionalism to the services provided and to the career as a whole.<br /> <br /> “All the guest speakers brought a different dynamic and more in-depth knowledge on some of the more technical subjects,” Kerkhoff said.<br /> <br /> Subject matter experts also allowed students to ask questions and discuss the topics they covered.<br /> <br /> “Having subject matter experts available to answer questions was priceless,” said Nicholas. “Our knowledge base increased just by listening to some of the questions asked by other participants.”<br /> <br /> In addition to the subject matter experts, representatives from National Guard Bureau briefly covered the challenges faced by National Guard soldiers.<br /> <br /> "It was eye-opening," Nicholas said. "A lot of the active duty participants were giving us 'kudos' because of the challenges and dynamics faced by the National Guard."<br /> <br /> Nicholas and Kerkhoff are working at the Army National Guard Readiness Center as the Mobile Training Team, ready to undertake instructing the 80-hour SHARP course to more than 700 National Guard collateral duty victim advocates located throughout the 54 states and territories who still need certification- an effort that will take about 22 class iterations.<br /> <br /> The Army National Guard has more than 2,600 collateral duty victim advocates who have completed the 80-hour training.<br /> <br /> Sexual assault in the military-an issue that has garnered national attention- has consistently been a topic of discussion at Guard Senior Leader Conferences and Command Sergeants Major Advisory Council meetings and is a top priority for military leaders at all echelons.<br /> <br /> It is a priority that was evident to both Nicholas and Kerkhoff when Army Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Army deputy chief of staff for personnel, addressed the class.<br /> <br /> "Having leadership come down and not just to say 'it's important', but to come down and take time to visit," noted Nicholas, "to me that speaks volumes on how important it really is."