Each year around spring, units across the Army conduct boards and competitions to highlight their best and brightest within a specific grade or skillset. For the 4th Military Information Support Group, early April means that the best paratroopers will go toe-to-toe to earn the coveted titles of Soldier, noncommissioned officer, driver, and jumpmaster of the year.
This year, two new titles were up for grabs. Unlike the tried and true Soldier of the year competition, no one knew quite what to expect. One event was a team-based physical challenge combined with board-style, brain-busting questions; the other was dynamic interactive roleplaying based on some of the worst situations a Soldier is likely to ever encounter. The common thread between them lay in April being the Army’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
Teal Knight is an immersive, interactive competition in which Soldiers have to prevent, respond to, and report violations of the Army’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention policies. Teal Relay is a timed, paired, sprint event in which correct answers shave minutes off the clock and wrong answers can cost competitors the title.
Sgt. 1st Class Adrian Azbill, the sexual assault response coordinator for 4th MISG, developed the events as a way to raise SHARP awareness during a month already packed with other events.
Describing the inspiration for Teal Knight, Azbill said he modeled it after other training events he experienced during the Psychological Operations Qualification Course.
“Thinking about how the competitions could relate to SHARP, I remembered key leader engagement exercises from my Q-course,” Azbill said. “The question became, how do I make something that is transformative and worthwhile?”
Azbill developed different scenarios for junior Soldiers, NCOs, and officers. As an example, the Soldier-level scenarios focused on point of contact type instances and were heavy on bystander intervention. These scenarios were similar to circumstances encountered in the Army’s “Not in My Squad” workshops, another training tool to create and expand positive unit environments for the Army.
The difference came down to the intensity and urgency of the situations combined with well-rehearsed and flexible role-players who were able to roll with the scenarios as each participant evolved it differently. Danielle Hill, the 4th MISG victim advocate, explained how they coached the role-players.
“The actors had to use uncertainty and confusion. In real life people don’t use doctrinal textbook terms to describe what happened to them,” Hill said. “You had to do more than just listen to their words. Observing their body language was key. The role-players had to display real life scenarios and react the way a victim or perpetrator really would.”
Hill has valuable experience knowing how both victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault actually behave. She formerly worked in law enforcement, in a U.S. attorney’s office and in a hospital. That experience, coupled with Azbill’s creative drive, provided a unique environment for innovation within the Army’s number one priority.
It might seem an unnecessary step to make Teal Knight into a competitive event, but adding that element served multiple purposes. It kept participants on their toes because they were representing their units, but the 4th Group commander, Col. Robert A.B. Curris, shared a more substantive reason behind the decision.
“Whenever a Soldier encounters a SHARP violation, or responds to a call for help, they represent the entire Army,” Curris said. “In that moment, they represent so much more than themselves. The care they provide makes an indelible impression on those involved. We want to recognize and reward those that have mastered these important skills, just like we do with other Soldier tasks.”
The 4th MISG’s SHARP team’s next challenge is replicating the event and then sharing it, Curris continued.
“They’re brilliant and have something special here. A positive way to reinforce and build upon the baseline of the Army’s mandated training.”
The response from the participants was more than just positive. One senior participant said that after 15 years of SHARP training he had never learned as much as he learned in the Teal Knight scenarios. Another called it intense, and unlike anything he’d ever done before. The Teal Knight junior enlisted winner had even more dramatic feedback for the event.
“It felt really good to participate and to know that I could take charge in these situations,” she said. “It was empowering. It made me feel stronger and more confident.”
She continued, relating her experience with Teal Knight to her own experiences as a survivor of sexual assault and harassment.
“I’ve been through some of these scenarios in real life, so I knew how I would want to be treated. Maybe that’s cheating,” she said with a wry smile. “I can see a change in people’s faces when I tell them what happened to me. When you’re victimized your brain goes crazy. Comfort and safety have been stripped away. That happened to me, so I know what to look for.”
As she recounted some of her own experiences she was clear eyed and sure of herself. Despite her young age she projected strength and compassion. It all comes down to one thing, she said, “At the end of the day, are you willing to step in and say something?”
It is fitting that in an organization where personal influence is the coin of the realm and the motto is “Words Conquer,” Soldiers are finding a new and stronger voice to aid the Army’s war on sexual assault and harassment.