FORWARD OPERATING BASE FARAH, Afghanistan (NNS) -- Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah continues to increase awareness and understanding of DoD policy regarding sexual assault in order to prevent incidents and ensure troops are aware of resources available to them during an awareness campaign at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Farah, May 4.
Operations Specialist 1st Class Megan Garcia, assigned to PRT Farah as a tactical operations center watchstander, is one of the command's two primary Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) victim advocates and helps to raise awareness throughout the command and across a multi-national, interagency base which houses other U.S., Italian and Slovenian military organizations as well as hundreds of civilians who work at the FOB.
"It's very important to me that our commander has made it clear to us, and everyone else on the FOB, that no matter where you're from or what you do, sexual assault has no place on FOB Farah," said Garcia.
Deployments, whether at sea or boots-on-ground in Afghanistan, can be challenging enough for sailors and soldiers alike, but the effects of sexual assault and sexual harassment on command climate are incredibly damaging. For this reason, Garcia uses awareness campaign materials from the Navy as well as senior leader videos from all branches to ensure that all service members and employees at the FOB know about the consequences of sexual assault and the resources that are available.
"The best feedback I received about the program happened while I was walking around the FOB hanging up new signs each week," said Garcia. "Most of the questions were from the junior soldiers in the security force about basic types of reporting, resources and that sort of thing, but it let me know that the message was getting out."
Army Capt. Jacob Estrada, commander of Bravo Battery, 2-12 Field Artillery Regiment and the security force commander for PRT Farah, was complimentary of Garcia's continued efforts to highlight and educate troops.
"Garcia has done a great job of making sure that she reaches everyone on the FOB so they're aware of the signs of sexual assault, how to be a good team player when someone is in a bad spot and how to access resources that are available to them if and when they're needed," said Estrada.
Part of Garcia's passion toward educating sailors and soldiers about the program stems from an experience she had when she was first assigned on the regional SARC watch bill as an advocate. The first time she received a call she was nervous and almost didn't know what to do for one very specific reason - it was a male on the other end of the line.
"The first time I got a call, it was a male - something I didn't expect," said Garcia. "I kept the SARC regional coordinator's contact information right by the phone as I talked to the victim on the phone. Unfortunately, the guy on the phone was very junior and didn't really know the process. He'd already talked to his chain of command and didn't realize the difference between restricted and unrestricted reporting. We had to go forward with an unrestricted report even though he really wanted to keep it restricted."
Sexual assault victims can disclose the assault to specified individuals (i.e., SARC, SAPR Victim Advocate, or healthcare personnel) and receive medical treatment, including emergency care, counselling, and assignment of a SARC and SAPR VA, without triggering an official investigation. However, once the chain of command or non-designated personnel are told of the incident, they have an obligation to move forward with a formal investigation.
Continued incidents of sexual assault and situations like the one faced by the young Sailor in Garcia's story are reasons why the Department of Defense has worked hard to raise awareness and understanding of sexual assault through continued information campaigns.
"It's just as important that service members understand their rights and DoD policies that keep them safe whether we're training in CONUS, deployed on a ship or if we're on a base in western Afghanistan," said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Kortazkoswski, executive officer of PRT Farah.
To access information and resources about the DoD's Sexual Assault and Prevention program check out their website at www.SAPR.mil .
PRT Farah's mission is to train, advise, and assist Afghan government leaders at the municipal, district, and provincial levels in Farah province, Afghanistan. Their civil-military team is comprised of members of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For more information about the PRT follow their page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PRTFRH .
For more news from Provincial Reconstruction Team-Farah, visit www.navy.mil/local/prtf/.