More than 150 Army sergeants major gathered for three days this week to tackle problems such as suicide, sexual assault, racism and extremism.
One potential idea involves analyzing data on when and where sexual assaults happen in the barracks and perhaps placing first sergeants on duty during those time slots to combat the problem. That proposal is far from approved, but it shows how Army leaders are analyzing issues that have plagued the service for years.
How this enlisted brain trust plans to fix small units, and who will be accountable for those fixes, must be delivered to the top enlisted soldier Thursday.
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston spoke with media Wednesday alongside four command sergeants major at the Senior Enlisted Forum held at Fort Eustis, Virginia.
Just because someone hasn’t seen or experienced racism within the Army itself, doesn’t mean it isn’t present, said the service's top enlisted leader.
Grinston will task the sergeants major to explain their next steps for when they take these ideas back to their units. And those same enlisted leaders must track whether the solutions are working and share the results across the Army.
“What’s the new idea that you’re going to come out with, brief me and the forum?” Grinston said he’s asked participants.
And if the solution isn’t working, adjust fire.
“We don’t want to wait to look at this a year from now,” Grinston said.
The event follows the “People First Solarium” held in March at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. That effort brought soldiers from across the Army with less than three years in service to the academy.
Those young soldiers looked at three problem areas in the Army — racism and extremism, sexual assault and suicide.
Six soldiers stationed in Alaska have died by suicide over between January and May. From 2014 to early 2019, at least 11 soldiers committed suicide at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, alone.
Last year the disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen at Fort Hood, Texas, who had suffered sexual harassment from a fellow soldier, sparked an independent review of the post’s command climate.
That review has spurred ongoing reform efforts of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program and led to firings or suspension of 14 Army leaders at the installation.
In past meetings of this kind, Grinston said that participants were more in a “receive mode.” Senior leaders would hit big ideas, make plans but often those would get lost in larger bureaucracy.
“I would like to eliminate sexual assault and harassment in our Army in one year,” Grinston said. “That’s a bold move.”
Grinston cautioned that ideas from the forum are pre-decisional, meaning they still have to be vetted and approved. But he did share one measure that was raised.
Part of the effort behind this forum included soliciting ideas and questions through social media from the larger Army. That way, Grinston said, leaders can approach these problems with a wider range of questions and tools.
Grinston mentioned eliminating sexual assault in the barracks, as a first step, for example.
Could that mean a first sergeant on the duty roster from Friday to Sunday in their unit’s barracks?
It was an idea raised by Command Sgt. Maj. Al Delgado with Army Materiel Command.
“My topic is discipline,” Delgado told reporters. “Okay, we have discipline issues in the barracks. I own the barracks from an AMC aspect. How do we fix this?”
Delgado then laid out a way in which units could track reports, analytics and determine when problems such as assault or harassment might arise and where. They could then meet that problem and re-evaluate every 30 days.
“This allows us to look at the problem and not just admire it but get at the root cause,” Delgado said.