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Wyoming Air National Guard pilots new sexual assault response training program

Maj. Bridget Flannery comes to Wyoming to train Soldiers to become Buddy Aid trainers at Joint Force Headquarters in Cheyenne, Wyo. on Dec. 6, 2021. Flannery began the process of creating the Buddy Aid program in 2014 after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Kristina Kranz)
Sgt. Kristina Kranz
Wyoming National Guard
Maj. Bridget Flannery comes to Wyoming to train Soldiers to become Buddy Aid trainers at Joint Force Headquarters in Cheyenne, Wyo. on Dec. 6, 2021. Flannery began the process of creating the Buddy Aid program in 2014 after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2013. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Kristina Kranz)

For the past two years, South Dakota and Wyoming's National Guards have piloted a new sexual assault response training program. The Buddy Aid training program was developed by a Major of the South Dakota Army National Guard after she witnessed sexual violence in Afghanistan in 2013. Wyoming National Guard Master Sgt. Rebecca Motley brought the pilot program to the state's Army Guard in 2019. Motley told Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska that her own experience made her realize the importance of this type of training.

Rebecca Motley: There was an incident while I was deployed where a member of my squad was assaulted, and I had to kind of sit back and watch the complexities of the report and the treatment of the soldiers. And so I kind of decided that if I could ever change the way that was going to be handled…the way we would facilitate care for a member, I would do it. So very early in 2019, I was introduced to the Buddy Training through a refresher training in South Dakota, and I made note of it as one of the best trainings I had ever sat through in response to somebody who has experienced sexual trauma. In the Army, everything we do is very repetitive so that we can react to it and be competent in our skills, and this very much broke it down into step one, step two, step three. And I was very, very, very impressed. So at the end of the training, I contacted the South Dakota sexual assault response coordinator and said if I ever had the opportunity to bring that training to Wyoming, I would do it in a heartbeat because it was very much needed. Because we do a really good job, in the SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevent) program and SAPR (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) of teaching the consequences of your actions, what actions could be a problem, how to report sexual harassment, and sexual assault, but we don't really or didn't, at the time, cover much about response. We really left that to the victim advocate, because we're trained to do it. But many times the very first person that finds out about this kind of trauma is a co-worker or a friend.

Kamila Kudelska: So who specifically in the force was trained? Was it the Air and the Army? Was it everyone? Was it a select few?

RM: So to begin with, it was just the Army because the training was not yet approved for the Air. I would say March of 2020 is when we got my first people ready to go and then COVID and we were doing not face to face training for a while. And then, once we started getting all that together as an organization for drills, we started training all units. So whether they were an EDA unit, or an Intel unit, all units, because at the time General Nesvik had wanted 100 percent of his force trained in two years, and we had said that we could do as many as we could in 2020, because of COVID, and the lack of face to face training, but guaranteed him that half of the force would be trained in 2021, which over half were. And we continue that training with the goal of by the end of this training year to have 100 percent of the force trained. So all army units. Since that time, Buddy has been approved for Air Guard. We do not yet in Wyoming have anybody trained to train it in the Air Guard side, but I am hoping that we'll be able to train the trainer in this training.

KK: What do these buddy aides learn?

RM: They are learning response to sexual assault. They understand how thinking processes are different for someone who has suffered some sort of trauma. They end up talking a great deal about the brain on trauma, how to respond to somebody who is not thinking linear, like maybe you and I are right now, but how to support and give that person that has experienced that trauma their power and control back and by not ask[ing] too many intrusive questions. You just let that information flow. And it's just making that response in the steps that you take in the following three to five minutes, keeping the communication open, making sure that the person who discloses understands that you are there to help them, offer them a victim advocate if they want to. Otherwise, it is all about giving them their control and keeping them safe.

KK: And part of that control is it telling them how, if they would want to, to report that sexual assault?

RM: Part of that control is, 'if you would like to report this sexual assault, this is how you do it.' And I am happy to give a warm handoff to the victim advocate and help you make that report. But if you're not interested at that time, it's up to you. I understand. And I'm here to support you and give you all the information I have and hand you the appropriate phone number or consultation with a professional to help you if you need it.

KK: In the recent couple of months, whistleblowers have come out saying that it's very hard and confusing to report sexual assaults in the guard. So I'm wondering if at all, is what? helping everyone understand that process to report?

RM: I think it is. Because part of the way that Wyoming trains this is we take about 15 minutes to explain the difference between restricted and unrestricted reporting, to point out the victim advocate in the room, to make sure that they understand a disclosure of sexual assault is not a report of sexual assault. It is not trained that way in South Dakota, but that is the way Wyoming adapted it so that we could make sure people who wanted to report had the tools at their hands to do that.

KK: Do we have any idea of the impact of it in the Wyoming Army National Guard? Of how it has helped if at all?

RM: So we've trained over 800 soldiers in the Wyoming Army National Guard. And every time we do a training, we have a disclosure of not just a sexual assault, but we have a soldier come to us because they are trying to process some sort of trauma. And we are able to give a warm handoff to whomever that they might need to talk to. If that's a victim advocate, we provide them advocacy services. If it is that they're struggling with maybe spouse abuse, referral to a local agency where they live where they can help get some sort of counseling or help. Whether that is suicidal ideations, and we hand that off to the chaplain and the suicide prevention people through our Soldier and Family Readiness. So we have a lot of interaction with the soldiers because the group is very small. It's 25 people or less for that conversation for this training. And it is conversation-led training. And so we're shifting the culture, building relationships and building trust.

Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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