A conference center on Fort Bragg became a war room on Tuesday, as commanders from across the post gathered to discuss an enemy that is plaguing the force.
This enemy can't be found on a map. And in some cases, it comes from within the Army itself.
With an emphasis on sexual assault prevention, Fort Bragg's third annual Special Victims Summit brought together more than 650 leaders from across Fort Bragg and the surrounding communities. They included commanders, medical, school and law enforcement personnel.
Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, who encouraged commanders to participate after attending last year's summit, said preventing sexual assaults was a matter of national security and key to maintaining the readiness that is required of Fort Bragg soldiers who are often on standby to deploy on short notice.
"It's fratricide," said LaCamera, the deputy commanding general of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg.
LaCamera, who had served as acting senior commander of Fort Bragg for the past year, said there are more than 200 open sexual assault cases involving Fort Bragg troops. In each case, nearly 50 soldiers are needed to support the victim or pursue criminal charges.
"That's bigger than a rifle platoon," LaCamera said.
LaCamera said Army leaders are charged with enforcing Army values and ethos and providing a safe and secure environment. If a soldier is a victim of sexual assault, then they have failed.
"Why aren't we taking care of people? Why are we looking the other way," the general said.
Officials said the summit was meant to provide a forum for local leaders, dispel common myths of sexual assaults and better inform the community. It also was intended to help Fort Bragg focus its efforts in preventing sexual assaults and protecting its service members.
"On the battlefield, we'll run through a hail of bullets to save a fellow soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, guardian or civilian," LaCamera said. "And yet when we see something going to hell in a handbasket in garrison, in a bar, at the (post exchange) or at the commissary, we look the other way."
LaCamera said he expects all soldiers, regardless of rank, to do what they can to protect their fellow service members.
"For those in uniform who volunteered, you really kind of gave up your right to be a bystander," he said. "My expectation is that you rush in and you take care of your comrade."
The summit, at the Iron Mike Conference Center, was hosted by Womack Army Medical Center.
Col. Lance Raney, the commander of the hospital, said the summit focused on medical and law enforcement personnel in its first two iterations.
The hospital hosts the event each year, providing local subject matter experts and bringing in national leaders to educate officials.
But last year, Raney said, LaCamera pointed out that the summit was missing a critical piece of the team needed to fight back against sexual assault within the military.
"If we're going to get ahead of this. If we're going to not just respond but prevent, it's got to be a full team effort," Raney said. "And a critical piece of that team is leadership."
Tuesday's summit involved presentations from Michael Bourke, the U.S. Marshals Service chief psychologist and head of its behavioral analysis unit; a team of Army lawyers; case reviews and presentations from Womack physicians who study the sexual exploitation of youth.
LaCamera encouraged those in attendance to participate in the summit.
"You are here to learn. You're here to be challenged. You're here to ask questions," he said.
Kelly Taylor, a Womack nurse and manager of the hospital's sexual assault medical forensic examiner program, helped organize the event. She said the summit has grown significantly in the past three years, when it began as a gathering of 200 Fort Bragg officials. She said the growth in attendance shows how valuable the summit has become.
"We all have the same end goal," Taylor said. "And now we're sitting at the same table, learning the same information."
At the same time, the summit also is garnering more involvement from surrounding communities and developing a reach that has brought attendees from as far as Texas, Georgia, Florida, Washington and Kansas.
"It's our responsibility to all come together," Taylor said. "This is not about us. This is about not losing focus."
Raney said he hoped leaders left the summit with a better understanding of how to address and attack the problem.
"We're getting better at what we do," he said. "We are getting better today at taking care of each other, at getting ahead of this problem, of responding appropriately to this problem."
--This article is written by Drew Brooks from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.