What would you do if you saw a friend who was intoxicated go with someone you knew wasn’t of good character, but that person could overpower you if you tried to intervene?
What if you knew a co-worker was upset about their finances and had been heavily drinking? What can you do?
Sixteen soldiers from across the 3rd Infantry Division learned how to approach and handle similar situations during a week of bystander-intervention classes as part of a divisionwide effort to teach all soldiers that they have choices to act. Everyone in the division will be trained on it by October.
Master Sgt. Jeffrey Fenlason, of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, is the director of the Raider Initiatives group, which leads the classes.
“Bystander intervention is a leader-development program aimed at developing trust and judgment within the command and really enhancing the esprit de corps, the communication process, the development of soldier’s judgement, and then in getting them to intervene when they see emergency situations,” he said. “We instituted it in 1st Brigade two years ago.”
Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, the commander of the 3rd ID, then expanded it to the entire division. They have worked with U.S. Army Recruiting Command on a long-term program, and other units are interested in the work they have done.
“So it really is a grassroots effort from the organizational level that has bubbled up through a lot of positive support and word of mouth,” Fenlason said.
“What we’re getting people to look at is the idea of, ‘When did something become an emergency for you? When did you begin to recognize that there might have been a situation that was going to have a negative outcome? And at what point did you decide or not decide to do something about that event?’” Fenlason said.
He wanted students to learn how they can react to a situation sooner, before it becomes an emergency.
Being able to recognize instances for intervention is the first step.
“We don’t role-play in terms of acting it out. We do scenario development,” Fenlason said.
“A very common one is: So have you all been to a large discount store, somewhere like that? Have you ever seen a parent disciplining a child in that store? And then I’m going to ask you, where is the line for you between discipline and abuse? And at what point do you step in and ask that other person, ‘Hey, are you OK? What are we doing here?’ Or do we walk by it?” he said.
“When you play the scenarios out, men and women, for example, will have different reactions to the different scenarios. Some of that is based on simple things like pure size,” Fenlason said.
“So if I’m a large male and I could physically intervene in the situation, I step in, I’m going to do ‘X.’ But if I believe that that is the only way that there is to intervene, then what do I do with a small-framed woman who’s got a whole different reaction set? So she’s going to walk away,” he said.
“Her walking away is to go find someone else, but I’ve got to get everybody in the room to recognize that possibility is as equally important as some large man busting in there who’s going to physically stop something from happening,” Fenlason said.
“And that’s what we’re really trying to get after is take initiative, do something that is in keeping with the Army values and, as Brig. Gen. (James) Blackburn calls it, a values-based culture of trust and judgment.”
Sgt. Admira Depina of the 258th Movement Control Team, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Sustainment Brigade; and Sgt. Wayne Jackson with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, were working together on some slides presented to them during a class breakout session.
“I think it is overall a really good program because it more assessed you,” Depina said. “Help yourself before you can help others.”
“I feel like everyone can do something to a certain extent. I mean no one is ever completely helpless,” Jackson said.
For him, “trying is what really matters. The thing is, it opened my eyes to basically a new way to be proactive instead of reactive.”
When it comes to soldiers reporting or intervening, it can be intimidating on who to go to.
It’s especially important for new soldiers, who might be a little more hesitant to speak up, to establish that line of communication and trust.
“If you’re there for that soldier, the first (noncommissioned officer), the first leader you meet in your unit, you’ll probably never forget,” Jackson said. “Because the first impression is everything.”
“A lot of people are afraid of being judged. What are you going to think of me if I tell you I have an issue,” Depina said. “So for instance, if I go out drinking and I drink too much and I get assaulted, a lot of people are kind of, ‘well, you shouldn’t have gone drinking in the first place.’ So instead of me helping you, I’m judging you that you went out drinking,” she said. “So it goes back to what kind of person you are for me to trust you,” she said. “Because if you are one of those that just judge, I’m not going to bring you my issues saying I got assaulted when you’re looking at me and judging me.”
Trust is probably the biggest key to succeeding in bystander intervention.
“It’s one of the main things that I learned. If there’s trust, there’s everything,” Depina said. “Because if I trust you I’m going to respect you. I’m going to be loyal to you, I trust you, (and) I can count on you.”