The Army’s Noncommissioned Officers Corps must foster and utilize trust at all unit levels in order to combat problems with sexual assault/harassment, suicide, and hazing, according to Sgt. Maj. Dave Stewart, the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic’s senior enlisted adviser.
“Leadership is an influencing process,” Stewart said on Oct. 21 during a noncommissioned officers professional development forum at the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition. “And you can’t influence without trust. You can’t be an effective leader without trust.”
Stewart, along with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III, encouraged the NCOs present to take a critical look at themselves and their leadership style to evaluate if they’ve developed the necessary trust within their units.
“You have to have inherent trust with your soldiers and leaders in order to be successful,” said Chandler who went on to expand on the NCO creed of “no one is more professional than I” saying “if you are a professional, you have the inherent responsibility to establish trust, regardless of anything else; if you can’t trust your leaders and your soldiers can’t trust you we will never be successful on today and tomorrow’s battlefield.”
Stewart used the example of a family selecting a babysitter for their child. When their choice is between an inexperienced 14-year-old neighbor they’ve known their whole life and an experienced professional that is a stranger to them, a family will almost always select the former.
“Each and every time we’re going to pick the person who has probably no babysitting experience whatsoever because we have the shared values and beliefs with this person who has lived down the street her whole life,” he said.
In the same way, Stewart explained, the experience and personal integrity of a NCO means nothing if there is no establishment of trust between that soldier and his or her subordinates.
At one point during his presentation, Stewart deferred to the tragic experience of Spc. Jarett Wright as a real life example of the strategic implications of trust breaking down between leaders, peers, and subordinates.
Wright was sexually assaulted by his peers in a hazing incident during his time in Iraq. Despite this incident, Wright said, he continued to obey his superiors and respected their rank in caring out various misisons.
“I didn’t respect them as people though,” Wright said. “I woke up every single morning thinking is this the day we die either from an Iraqi or from each other because we literally hated each other.”
Part of the problem, Wright explained, was that he and others who were assaulted did not know who to contact to address these issues.
“We had no idea who we could go to,” he said.
Eventually Wright’s roommate told some NCO’s from a previous troop he and Wright had served in.
“But it didn’t end there,” Wright said.
After returning home, Wright continued to be harassed and threatened by some of the same soldiers who were now living in the same area as him.
“That’s not how we need to do things,” he said.
I guarantee you, after listening to this story, you won’t ever let it happen again,” Stewart told those present.
Medal of Honor Recipient Ty Carter was also present at the forum and added his perspective to Wright’s story.
“Unfortunately in his situation there wasn’t something close to rely on: his buddies were his enemies,” Carter said.
While Wright’s story exemplified the failure of trust and NCO leadership within the army, another soldier present, Sgt. Maj. Julie Guerra, told her story as well, which differed in leadership response.
Guerra had also been sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier but upon reporting the incident, she said, NCO leadership took control.
“What they did the entire time was they kept me to the Army standard,” Guerra said. “My story is very different than what you hear from Spc. Wright and what you typically hear from sexual assault victims.”
Guerra’s superiors immediately insured she received the proper counseling and also made sure she had something to do every day, which, Guerra added, “is very important for a victim.”
“They made me part of the team continuously,” Guerra said. “There wasn’t a separate standard for me because I was a sexual assault victim.”
Adding, “I trusted my leadership and my leadership in turn made me earn their trust every single day. And I trusted them as much as they trusted me. I have a good news story and there aren’t many of those.”
In light of Guerra’s story, Stewart remained optimistic about the future.
“It wasn’t, at the end, all these sources that took care of her – it was leadership,” said Stewart, who explained that now the Army has even more resources at hand to help address these issues. “Resources like this with a leadership team that is caring and supportive and committed would be unstoppable. With this we can take a victim, a survivor and they could be the next Sgt. Maj. of the Army. And that’s important.”
Chandler encouraged NCOs to take these concepts of trust and what they learned at this forum and turn it into action.
“What we’ve got to do as noncommissioned officers is take action,” Chandler said. “At the end of the day it’s our actions who speak for who we are as an NCO corps.”
Adding, “We won’t do that if you don’t trust each other. We won’t be successful in this battle on sexual assault or hazing.”