Working towards culture change
By Tara Clements
EDITOR’S NOTE: Two women with very different backgrounds come together to achieve a common goal: inform and educate the PEO Ammunition workforce to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault. But what started as an initiative for one community quickly grew into a larger challenge.
Not having met prior to volunteering, Veronica Morgante and Brenda Eiseman acted as a team and volunteered to develop and implement a Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program for PEO Ammunition and later, for Picatinny Arsenal, to meet the Army’s requirement for the program.
The Army SHARP Program reinforces the Army’s commitment to eradicating sexual harassment and sexual assault through a comprehensive policy that centers on awareness and prevention, training and education, victim advocacy and response, reporting, accountability, and program assessment. The Army SHARP Program promotes sensitive care and confidential reporting for victims of sexual assault and accountability for those who commit these crimes.
Morgante serves as the Victim Advocate (VA) and Eiseman as the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) for PEO Ammunition charged with coordinating and conducting SHARP training for all 330 PEO Ammunition civilian and military personnel. Because of the Army’s SHARP training requirements, the two also acted as the Picatinny Installation SARC and VA, supporting the 5,000-strong community, until the installation could hire qualified personnel.
And becoming certified in these positions is no small feat—to achieve the DOD level I certification, a mandatory two-week, 80-hour training course, including exams and practice exercises, is required. Any failing grade sends a trainee home. Although they didn’t attending the course together, they shared a similar perspective: “This is not an ‘easy’ course.”
“There was so much information to absorb. I took home reading assignments each evening and there were tests that had to be passed. If you didn’t make the grade, you were sent home and I didn’t want that to be me,” added Morgante.
“I thought it was top-notch training”, said Eiseman who, as a retired officer, has had her fair share of experience with Army training courses. “I’m an acquisition professional, but I have a degree in professional counseling and always had a goal to transition to something in the counseling field after retiring. I see this as something I could do to fulfill my goal, use my degree and stay connected to and support Soldiers. It’s something I’m very passionate about.”
This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April served as a launching pad for their program including ensuring informational materials were accessible across the installation, providing informative briefings at town hall meetings, ensuring requirements for mandatory leader engagements and inspections were met and that program information was easily accessible throughout the local area. In addition, they ensured that the SAAM proclamation was signed by the commanding general and garrison leadership, demonstrating commitment to the program at the PEO and installation’s most senior levels.
Their efforts to build and implement a SHARP program that increased awareness has proven effective – “people are talking about it…we’ve received a few calls from individuals inquiring about the program,” said Morgante.
This program is a significant focus area for the entire DOD to achieve a culture change in the military and is an ongoing process. “Eliminating sexual assault from our Armed Forces remains one of our top priorities,” stated the Secretary of Defense, the Hon. Chuck Hagel, in his Aug. 14, 2013, memorandum, outlining seven measures to be in effect by Jan. 1, 2014 to strengthen the program.
FOTF: How were the two of you selected to serve as advocates?
MORGANTE: A request was sent out to the PEO Ammunition workforce for [two] volunteers. I had been a unit victim advocate under the previous program, Sexual Assault Prevention Response Program (SAPR), so it made sense for me to volunteer. Once the deputy PEO approved, I was on my way to the two-week training program.
EISEMAN: I volunteered because I viewed this as an opportunity for me to stay connected with Soldiers and continue to serve Soldiers in a human capacity, which is a little bit different than what I do in my regular job [as an acquisition professional] and is something I am very passionate about.
FOTF: Given geographical differences, what was it like working together to execute the program?
MORGANTE: We always managed to tackle and complete what was required of us to execute SHARP at Picatinny, communicating by telephone and email. Brenda made trips to Picatinny when necessary, incorporating her trips with her regular duties (non- SHARP). Her trips coincided with the April Sexual Assault Awareness Month and training sessions she was conducting–we scheduled about a dozen of those training sessions to train our PEO Ammunition workforce.
EISEMAN: Fortunately, Veronica and I work very well together and the PEO has had no incidences of sexual harassment or assault so all of our efforts so far have been focused on education, prevention, and preparation to respond in the event of any reported incidences. Plus, I’ve been able to share some of the great resources, ideas and knowledge coming from the Belvoir community to the Picatinny community so that’s been a benefit, I think.
FOTF: What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?
MORGANTE: Throughout my civilian career, I have had positions within the administrative field that support our Army civilians and Soldiers. In my current position as an organizational resources specialist, I manage human resource and manpower information for PEO Ammunition.
As a SHARP VA, I train the PEO Ammunition workforce on how to identify unacceptable behaviors and ways to prevent sexual harassment and assaults. SHARP has become a top priority program for the Department of the Army and is working towards achieving cultural change within the ranks that sexual harassment and sexual assault has no place in the military.
EISEMAN: I am the business management officer for the Countermine Division of the Counter Explosive Hazard and also serve as the PEO Ammunition SHARP/Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). As the business manager, I help coordinate and manage financial resources to project officers to successfully deliver capability to the warfighter. As the SHARP/SARC, I assist in promoting awareness and prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the work place and help foster a positive climate that respects the dignity of all members of the Army family.
FOTF: What has your experience been like? What has surprised you the most?
MORGANTE: Working the SHARP Program has opened my eyes to the unacceptable behaviors that lead to harassment and assault. My SHARP training has spilled over into my personal life to educate my family and friends. What surprised me the most: In January, I was made aware that the Picatinny installation sought to leverage the PEO Ammunition SHARP resources (me and the SHARP SARC) to establish a program for the entire installation. [Brenda and I] were appointed the installation SHARPs through June while the garrison went through the process to hire their own personnel. The added responsibility became a major duty for me, but I took it all in stride knowing that I was part of the bigger picture to achieve the cultural change.
EISEMAN: I just recently came off a two week vacation which I really enjoyed. In fact, my twin daughters and I met up with my son, who is also in the Army, in Cancun and we became certified scuba divers. However, I can honestly say that I was excited to come back to work. I love coming to work each day, I love the team that I work with, the mission that I perform, and the environment that I work in. This really isn’t a surprise to me though because every job that I’ve had throughout my military career has been that way and I didn’t expect my civil service career to be any different.
FOTF: What was your deployment experience. What stands out to you the most?
EISEMAN: I was deployed while on active duty from Aug. 2004-2005. My team and I established the RC East Joint Contracting Office in Afghanistan where I served as the chief of contracting. The camaraderie between all the services and local nationals supporting the mission inside the wire as well as outside the wire, and the eagerness of the local nationals to learn acceptable business practices and to conduct business with the U.S. contracting office, are among my most memorable deployment experiences.
FOTF: Why did you join the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?
MORGANTE: I took the federal civil service exam and was offered a position at Picatinny Arsenal. I had been unemployed for about five months from private industry when I was offered a position in the Picatinny civilian personnel office – the timing was just right. My greatest satisfaction is knowing that what I do is supporting our Soldiers.
EISEMAN: I enlisted in the Army in the Army Reserves in 1982 as a way to get out of my hometown and explore life beyond rural Ohio. I was so excited about the opportunities the military had to offer and was encouraged by my supervisor to compete for an ROTC scholarship. My most rewarding assignments while on active duty included being the commander of a basic training unit and establishing the RC East Contracting Office in Afghanistan. Both of these assignments offered me the opportunity to be part of a team that positively impacted peoples’ lives. As a basic training commander it was tremendously gratifying to see young recruits transition from civilians to physically fit, confident soldiers. As chief of contracting, it was very rewarding to be an ambassador and to have a positive economic impact in the local community. As a Department of the Army civilian, I enjoy being part of a team responsible for delivering technology that is saving lives and limbs of our deployed warfighters.
FOTF: As a retired officer, how was the transition to becoming an Army civilian?
EISEMAN: For me, the transition was not difficult at all. I was unemployed for one whole day. The most challenging part for me was figuring out what I was going to wear! I still work with a great team of dedicated professionals on a very relevant mission. I have a bit more stability and predictability in my career, which is good since I am raising teenage twin daughters. Now, I experience the thrill of the military lifestyle vicariously through my son who is serving in the 2-1 Infantry.
Learn more about:
PEO Ammunition: http://www.pica.army.mil/peoammo/Home.aspx
Picatinny Arsenal: http://www.pica.army.mil/PicatinnyPublic/index.asp
SHARP website: http://www.preventsexualassault.army.mil/
- “Faces of the Force” is an online feature highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce. Produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication Division, and working closely with public affairs officers, Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines are featured every other week. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.