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Talking with Sailors

A Conversation With Rear Adm. Sean Buck

Q & A with the head of the 21st Century Sailor Office

Editor's note: Rear Adm. Sean Buck, the head of Navy's 21st Century Sailor office and the Navy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) officer, took time Aug. 21 to answer questions from All Hands Magazine about his new assignment and the latest SAPR efforts in the Navy.

Q: Can you explain what your job is as N17 and what that means to Sailors?

A: Sure, thanks for the opportunity and a great question. Out of a task force that was recently stood up this last spring called "Task Force Resilient" in which a group of folks looked at the problems that were affecting the resiliency of our Sailors and their families over time, we chose to stand up the 21st Century Sailor Office. I've been chosen to be the director of it, and the purpose is to try to better integrate, better synchronize and tighten up all of the great programs that we've had over years that work toward affecting the resiliency of a Sailor, but that have never worked together. Specifically, it's a broad portfolio. I've got all of our family and readiness programs. I've got lots of things that affect a Sailor: physical fitness, total Sailor fitness in which we're looking at a Sailor's physical health, mental health, spiritual health and social health. We look at sexual assault, prevention and response, sexual harassment, equal opportunity programs. We also look at some of the negative sides that affect a Sailor sometimes in the family advocacy programs such as child abuse, child neglect, and we also look at alcohol and substance abuse prevention for our Navy.

So as you can see that's a very wide spectrum of programs, but they all come back and affect the overall resiliency of our Sailors, ourselves and our families. It allows us to ultimately get to the CNO's tenets of warfighting first, operating forward and being ready. We're trying to make sure that Sailors are resilient and ready to go.

Q: What is your office's role in suicide prevention?

A: That's a very, very important topic and something that's been afflicting all the services over the last decade or so. We are looking across the spectrum of stress, from prevention before that event would ever happen to post-vention, if in fact the event takes place and we need to come in after the event. On the prevention side of that spectrum we're looking at operational stress control, looking at the things that stress a Sailor and trying to give him or her the tools that allow them to confront adversity, deal with trauma, deal with tragedy, pick themselves up and stay resilient toward that. We also have very much a play in the post-vention in the unlikely event or sad event that someone has chosen to take their life.

Q: You're also the Navy's Sexual Assault Prevention and Prevention Officer. What are the key elements to combating sexual assault in the Navy?

A: As the Navy's Sexual Assault and Prevention Officer, the CNO wants me to have a broad encompassing program to get at it. That involves prevention, investigation, accountability and victim advocacy or victim response. It's the aggregate of all of those efforts that we believe are going to help us reduce, with the ultimate goal of eliminating, sexual assault from the Navy. On the prevention side we've come out with a very exciting new list of initiatives. We have had a tremendous amount of training in the last year across the fleet both with our uniformed Sailors as well as our Navy civilians. The purpose of that training was to raise the level of situational awareness of the problem, and also to be sure that we have reached out to each and every Sailor that all of us know the procedures and the process to report and to seek help if we happened to become a victim of sexual assault. In the investigation side we have recently begun and are in the process of hiring 54 additional NCIS agents to round out our cadre of investigators. That will allow us to investigate the number of cases in a more timely manner, and also what we're doing with these agents is we're putting them through much more robust, significant and comprehensive training toward investigating complex crimes.

Sexual assault is a complex crime, very difficult to investigate, very difficult to prosecute and the training will help in that regard. We've seen some success in the Norfolk fleet concentration area. That was the first place that we increased the number of agents. We've already seen a reduction in time to investigate from 300 days down to approximately 80 days. On the accountability side of our efforts, ultimately the commander is responsible for creating a command climate that encourages dignity, respect and professionalism to each and every one of us within the command. We're looking at changes to the FITREP and the EVAL instruction that will be able to hold us more accountable as we're reported on and our performance is assessed over time.

Also, with our lawyers that help prosecute the cases and hold the perpetrator accountable, we have created two programs one the legal side. Our existing set of prosecutors and defense attorneys are going through much more sophisticated and comprehensive training on how to prosecute a complex crime such as sexual assault. We also are putting into place a new program; a new group of JAG's called the Victim Legal Counsel Program. What that will enable us to do is each victim of a reported sexual assault in the Navy will be assigned a victim legal counsel. That's a trained and proven and certified attorney that will help shepherd them through the entire process. This is in addition to the prosecutor that prosecutes the case, the defense attorneys that defend the case and the judges. This victim legal counsel is specifically a person assigned to the victim. That's very exciting because we think that capability paired with the increased training and capability of our investigators on the NCIS side, that fused together in a special victim capability will allow us to have much more accountability of those that choose to perpetrate the crime of sexual assault.

In the last facet of our program, victim advocacy or victim response, we have a very robust program to immediately respond to a victim so that we can make them feel more comfortable with the process, and that they can stay in the process from the day that they have to report an assault against them to the day that the case is adjudicated and the perpetrator is held accountable. One of those was the Victim Legal Counsel Program that I mentioned a moment ago. We have hired 66 new SARC's, or sexual assault response coordinators - 66 additional victim advocates that are going to be distributed and assigned to all the fleet concentration areas around the Navy to better service and provide service to victims of sexual assault. So an increase in SARC's, an increase in victim advocates, better trained agents, better trained prosecutors and a command climate in which a Sailor now trusts the system and trusts leadership that we'll see it through and respond appropriately to their assault. We think this will help us reach the ultimate goal that the CNO and all of us have of eliminating sexual assault from the Navy.

Q: What would you say to Sailors who have a busy schedule, and, most of the time, don't understand the importance of training on sexual assault prevention?

A: That's easy. I can definitely relate to that. I'm one of those Sailors and you're one of those Sailors. My answer to that is this is a horrible crime that's being perpetrated within our own ranks. None of us deserve to fear or work in an unsafe environment in which we think one of our own could be a perpetrator against us, so this rises to the top of priority in training in my opinion. The time spent on understanding the problem, understanding each of our own roles in it, understanding bystander intervention and being sure that we and our shipmates understand the process of how to report if it does happen is paramount.

Q: What advice would you give sailors that want to do something to help the effort of eliminating sexual assault from the Navy?

A: What can you do...What can I do to help prevent sexual assault and eliminate it from our Navy? One, be sure that you are a participant in creating a command climate that encourages dignity, respect, professionalism and has no tolerance for sexist behavior, sexual harassment or sexual assault. Completely be intolerant of that in whatever command you serve. The second thing would be to be sure that you are an appropriate bystander, that you have the courage or the backbone to respond if you see a bad situation beginning to occur either on duty or off duty, and you step in and try to be part of the solution and prevent a bad or destructive decision by one of your shipmates.

Q: What's the way ahead? Where do we go from here?

A: Well, each and every one of us needs to continue to be part of the process and part of the solution. This is a fleet problem that demands a fleet solution and every one of us own it. So, continue to push forward with the initiatives that we have to institutionalize that across our fleet. To the individual Sailor: to be able to be willing to stand up and have the backbone to be a bystander in the event they witness something bad about to happen. And also I'd like to encourage all of us to participate in the command climate surveys that come out within your own command and also the annual survey on sexual harassment and sexual assault.
There's a very new initiative we have that should make all of us excited about being a more willing participant to answer the survey questions and that is, your boss's boss will now see the results of the survey automatically. It won't be left up to a commander as to whether he or she shares it with their boss over them. It now goes there automatically. Also, your boss is now directed to debrief the results of the survey with you and with the entire team, the group of people that took the survey. That made me excited. If I know that my boss's boss is going to see my answers to a survey, I very much want to be a participant. That's allows me to be a much better part of the solution.