WASHINGTON, D.C. - Providing a support mechanism for victims of sexual assault within the National Guard is one of the most important programs the Guard offers, the Guard's senior officer told attendees here at the 2010 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Leadership Summit, Nov. 1.
"I look at the SAPR program not as a stand-alone program, but as a a pillar under the capstone of support programs that keep our force healthy, safe, vibrant and in a position to answer the call to arms when our nation is in need," said Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau.
However, said McKinley, while there have been great successes, improvements can also be made.
"We've made great strides in the past years in all of these programs," he said. "But, based on the briefing that I had last week as I prepared for today, I think we can do better.
"The metrics of success show me that the work is still in front of us."
McKinley said sexual assault is one of the most detrimental issues facing the Guard today.
"All of these ills of society detract from our force," he said, adding that suicide and substance abuse are other issues facing the Guard. "They impact our readiness to provide the kind of security and safety for the country and our states that we all strive to provide."
Sexual assault is also devastating to those who have been a victim as well as their family, friends and unit.
"We bring with us a sense of family and community everywhere we go and it makes us a stronger and more valuable force," he said. "Unfortunately, [since the Guard draws from the greater society] we also bring with us the problems that are present in our greater society as well."
In Fiscal Year 2010, there were 186 reported cases of sexual assault within the Guard, said McKinley, who added that there may be many other unreported instances.
Reducing those numbers, while providing an atmosphere of support for those that have been victims, means ensuring soldiers and airmen have the skills and training to minimize the possibility of a sexual assault and how to respond when a report is filed.
Making sure those educational and awareness goals are met is a challenge for a part-time force.
"We're going to have to use innovative thinking and we're going to have to think outside the container to make sure that we get the training done and you get the time with the soldiers and airmen that [is needed]," he said.
The SAPR program is one of the key items that McKinley plans to discuss with the adjutants general when he meets with them later in the month.
"I think for all of you in this room you deserve to have access to the senior leadership in your state," he said. "Whether it's the senior enlisted leadership or our officer leadership, or the adjutant general himself or herself."
McKinley added that a solid support program is already in place, and he is committed to strengthening that structure.
"We have a good foundation from which to work from," he said. "We have a good state and national structure in place.
"I'm fully comitted to all of you in this room to give you all of the support, resources and acceleration that you need," he said. "I challenge all of us here today to take all of our efforts to the next level and use this conference as a springboard to accelerate our efforts."