Fort Bliss Commander Wants Leaders in Barracks More Often to Stop Sexual Harassment, Assault

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Cars wait to enter Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday Sept. 9,  2014. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca)
Cars wait to enter Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday Sept. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca)

The commander of Fort Bliss, Texas, has launched a new effort to eliminate "corrosive" behaviors such as sexual assault and harassment, including a policy that requires unit leaders to have an increased presence in soldier barracks.

"Operation Ironclad" comes two months after the public release of an independent review of Fort Hood, Texas, that found the command climate allowed a permissive culture of sexual assault and harassment to fester on the post. The review was ordered after a public outcry erupted in response to the disappearance and murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen.

"Sexual harassment and sexual assault must stop," Maj. Gen. Sean Bernabe said in an Army video released Wednesday evening. "Operation Ironclad is making Fort Bliss a non-permissive environment to this corrosive behavior."

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Bernabe, who also command's the 1st Armored Division, formed a planning committee in December immediately following the release of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee's report. Its mandate was to prioritize efforts against sexual harassment and assault but also to go after extremism, racism and suicide at Fort Bliss, according to a base news release.

One of Ironclad's goals is to make sure that barracks are safe. Bernabe ordered an updated installation-wide barracks policy in early February.

The policy calls for a "routine leader presence in the barracks as a further deterrent" to sexual harassment and assault, according to the release.

"Leaders are strongly encouraged to conduct walkthroughs at times when they anticipate their presence will be a decisive factor in maintaining good order and discipline," according to the command policy letter.

Another focus of effort will be to shore up the installation's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program after the Fort Hood review found numerous shortcomings with its program.

Bernabe has doubled the number of required sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates, down to the battalion level, to bolster the post's effectiveness at responding to victims and bringing forward allegations.

In addition, the 1st Armored Division put out guidance to ensure that SHARP professionals have "immediate access to government vehicles 24 hours a day, [seven] days a week."

"Most important right now is making sure that we are creating an environment that is non-permissive of assaults and harassment, at all levels," Bernabe said in the release.

The Fort Bliss Military Police station has been reorganized to make sure it has personnel on duty around the clock to complete military protective orders to safeguard victims from alleged offenders and ensure those MPOs are immediately uploaded into the National Crime Information Center database, according to the release.

MPs at Bliss have teamed up with local civilian law enforcement to start a ride-along program so company, troop and battery commanders from across the installation can get a clearer picture of criminal incidents on and off post, the release adds.

"This is how we care for our soldiers," Bernabe said in the release. "At every level, we must demonstrate engaged leadership; engaged leadership builds trust. You build trust by cohesive teams through immediate and appropriate action."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: 'Gravely Disappointed:' 14 Fort Hood Leaders Fired, Suspended in Wake of Vanessa Guillen Murder

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