Guest Post: “Fort Hood’s Revelation about DOD’s Goal to Prevent Sexual Assault and Harassment—Train Gender”

Today’s guest post is by Major Dimitri J. Facaros, a  U.S. Army Judge Advocate, who offers fresh ideas as to how the Department of Defense in general, and the Army in specific, might credibly create gender equality and in doing so address the scourge of sexual assault and harassment.

Major Facaros innovatively approaches extremely difficult issues that have frustrated commanders for years.  In my view, now is exactly the right time to explore new ways to use tools – and especially existing ones – to find solutions.  Let’s take a look at his very interesting recommendations:

Fort Hood’s Revelation about DOD’s Goal to Prevent Sexual Assault and Harassment—Train Gender

By Major Dimitri J. Facaros

On February 19, Secretary of Defense Austin III stated, in reference to sexual assault, that the “department will look into what’s work[ed] to prevent this and what hasn’t and what additional measures need to be taken to ensure a safe, secure, and productive environment for all personal.” Then, on February 26, 2021, DOD announced a 90-day independent review commission on sexual assaults in the military. Specifically, the commission will look at “climate, culture, and prevention. All options should be on the table.”

Secretary Austin has read the Ford Hood Report—a report directed by then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy as “an independent review of the command climate and culture at Fort Hood” to determine its impact on the “safety, welfare and readiness of our Soldiers and units.” This followed the tragic circumstances of SPC Vanessa Guillen’s murder.  Perhaps the most notable finding in the report was a determination that the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program was “ineffective, to the extent that there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

The report, however, falls silent on a bigger question: whether the Department of Defense (DOD) can credibly create gender equality without ignoring unique aspects of different genders while simultaneously earning public confidence in the institution and being seen as serious about protecting women from discrimination and crime.  To this end, DOD should leverage current tools to train gender and develop command cultures of respect.

As DOD’s review is underway, we can look to the findings of the Fort Hood Report as a guide for how DOD might address larger systemic concerns about sexual assaults and harassment across its ranks. Training gender is a start—and DOD has a reference point.  

Although addressing a very different situation, clues to a newer version of gender training are readily available in DOD’s recent Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Strategic Framework. Its inclusion of the phrase gender-based violence (GBV) provides an immediately viable parallel that would enhance the DOD prevention plan, as GBV, and its related courses, provide training materials that can also help form the basis of gender training. 

Relevant crossover GBV training materials include studying gender and gender equality. For example, the United Nations Women Training Centre’s I Know Gender Course aims to “strengthen awareness and understanding of gender equality to integrate “gender perspective into everyday work for the UN staff.” Studying gender equality and women’s empowerment develops “links between gender and specific thematic areas such as work.”

Executing the training is another matter, but awareness of preexisting programs available for DOD to leverage is key to developing a strong gender program.  Injecting the training within the SHARP program would be a start.

SHARP is the lead agent for implementing changes to enhance overall DOD response to sexual misconduct and gender should be at the core of this response.  SHARP contours are in a prime position to adopt some gender education, which will assist SHARP in achieving a culture and climate free of sexual assault and harassment. 

In the Army, for example, the SHARP Academy assisted in preparing the U.S. Army People Strategy Prevention of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Annex. The annex considers a number of primary prevention practices.  The intended outcome of one such practice is to ensure participants understand the facts and myths about dating and relationships, alcohol, and sexual consent.” Another prevention practice is to continue the current practice of conducting annual SHARP training.

U.S. Army personnel, for example, must conduct annual training aimed at developing a culture of respect—where gender understanding plays a key role—that treats any type of sexual misconduct as intolerable and ensures victims are confident that the institution will be responsive to their experiences, reports, and concerns. 

For the Army, Army Directive 2018-23 mandates that commanders, along with trained SHARP professionals, will annually conduct SHARP refresher training with their Soldiers face-to-face at the unit level using pre-approved training material prepared by the SHARP Academy. This is a prime target for added gender training.

DOD can also inject gender training in furtherance of the Army Command Policy.  Recently, DOD expanded the Army Harassment Prevention and Response Program and the Military Equal Opportunity Policy and Program to include discriminatory harassment, which is “a form of harassment that is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity), national origin, or sexual orientation.”  Embedded in this definition are elements of the larger efforts designed to integrate gender.

But the success of integrating gender training hinges on strong leadership.  The Fort Hood Report provides an ideal opportunity to integrate its recommendations and the message that commanders are pivotal in implementing cultural change.  The reports indicates that, at all levels, Commanders are not accomplishing the mission. 

Leadership, as with any military plan, is the determinative element of this program.  Historically, effective implementation of cultural change is contingent on strong and committed leaders who embrace that change and inculcate their units to do the same.  When leaders adopt a pro forma approach, failure is almost always the result.

For example, decisive leadership led to successfully implementing LOAC compliance.  In order to reduce “the loss of innocent civilian life,” General David Petraeus in 2010 issued new tactical directives to limit U.S. force in Afghanistan. Similarly today, we see engaged Commanders developing programs aimed at preventing and stopping sexual assault and harassments. Decisive leadership fosters trust and requires training the whole Solider, something the report notes.

The Report states that it will take more than Command to fix “cultural posture” and that the Army as a whole must examine the “lifecycle of a Soldier, how the army can better develop the ‘whole’ person.” It further aims at “helping each Soldier recognize the value of the warriors with whom they serve” and indicates that “it requires comprehensive consideration and circumspect implementation.”

These concepts are applicable to DOD at large, certainly in relation to its ongoing attempts in fulfilling its long-term integration plan.  DODs training efforts should aim at both current and incoming personnel.  Gender training can mirror similar training during the transitional phase.

For example, let us examine the Army weapons qualification course.  In the last phase, a Solider must successfully hit a certain number of targets from certain shooting positions to pass.  It is likely that if a Soldier does not pass on their first attempt, the Soldier will have a number of other attempts. 

Why do we require such extensive training on a weapon?  Because the proficiency of a weapon carries life and death consequence for a Solider.  But now we know their proficiency of gender understanding does, too.  A failure on a weapons course may led to catastrophic consequences on a battlefield, while a failure to understand gender may lead to catastrophic consequences in the barracks—even worse is that the failure to understand gender is more subtle and slowly poisons a culture, harder to detect than a loud, quick bang.

We should place as much weight on gender qualification as we do on weapons training.  Basic training Soldiers should receive a similar phased approach when it comes to training gender.  Although PowerPoint presentations are likely part of this effort, they are just one piece to the training. The training should also include vignettes and lifelike scenarios similar to those used in the SHARP 360 training at Fort Hood.

Training should last throughout the basic training course and it should have “measurable goals and objectives.” If Soldiers do not obtain passing scores, they should recycle through the course.  This training also serves to ensure Soldiers “values respect and inclusion and knows how to carry that out in day-to-day interactions,” both in-and-out of garrison.

Although there is momentum for substantive change, the initiative may suffer resistance attributable to personnel shortfall.  The programs above do have some designated trainers, but a number of current training requirements task Soldiers with collateral duties.  Without designating personnel with a primary role to teach gender, it may risk becoming something Soldiers view as an additional complication.  Gender Advisors, however, can reduce this burden. 

The US military adopted Gender Advisors, whose primary role is to integrate UNSCR 1325 and gender dimensions. They are also tasked to “establish and oversee a system of gender awareness education and training programs (in garrison and deployed).” Although Gender Advisors are not meant to train the US military in preventing and stopping internal violence against women, DOD can leverage their expertise to do just that.

Secretary Austin’s recent directive makes it clear senior leaders should not “be afraid to get creative” when working towards prevention and accountability measures. Creative solutions should have a common denominator—develop the whole person.  Initiating gender training and creating command cultures of respect develops the whole Soldier.  This creative solution is a step towards earning the public’s trust and preventing other violent and heinous sexual assault and harassment crimes from happening in the future.


The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, the Department of Defense, or any other agency of the U.S. government.

Moreover, the views and opinion expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security, or Duke University.

About the author

Major Dimitri J. Facaros, a U.S. Army Judge Advocate, is currently assigned as a training officer and teaching fellow at the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL), Sanremo, Italy, where he teaches the legal aspects of International Humanitarian Law, human rights, and advanced topics in the law of war.  His previous military duties include National Security Law Attorney, Special Victims’ Counsel, Trial Defense Counsel, and Chief, Military Justice & Special Assistant U.S. Attorney.

Remember what we like to say on Lawfire®: gather the facts, examine the law, evaluate the arguments – and then decide for yourself!


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