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News | Sept. 23, 2022

Vermont National Guard takes steps to prevent interpersonal violence

By Don Branum Vermont National Guard Public Affairs

The Vermont National Guard is moving forward with a program to closely analyze and improve its climate, in line with Department of Defense initiatives to revamp the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.

The Vermont Guard’s Integrated Prevention Workforce will analyze data available through Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, the Equal Employment Opportunity office, the State Equal Employment Manager, and other agencies to examine risk factors and protective factors related to sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, and workplace violence, said Maj. Scott Detweiler, who will be the workforce program manager.

“We’ll first define what the program looks like and how it operates,” Detweiler said. “Our purpose is to analyze data available to us, assess where our risk factors and protective factors are, examine how we can influence those, and assess the effectiveness of that influence. We’ll be applying a public health model to these areas in a way the Department of Defense hasn’t done before.”

The DOD’s new approach to prevention will use a public health lens developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Detweiler said.

“It’s the same model we use to understand COVID-19,” Detweiler said. “Through data modeling, we understood which populations were most vulnerable, and we understood the prevalence throughout the community. We overlaid that with hospitalizations and deaths to understand the severity in relation to the prevalence.”

The prevalence of COVID depends on risk factors like large social gatherings and protective factors like community vaccination rates. Similarly, violence has its own risk factors like drug and alcohol misuse, hostility toward women, and hyper aggressiveness, as well as protective factors like empathy, concern for others, and de-escalation skills.

“The task of the IPW is to bring that type of holistic analysis into the Vermont National Guard,” Detweiler said.

The model is similar to one Detweiler included in briefings to the local community during his tenure as SARC from 2016-2018. The briefing included CDC risk factors associated with sexual violence and measures that the Guard could take to reduce those risks and promote protective factors. The risk factors are common across multiple types of interpersonal violence, including those under the IPW’s purview.

The IPW analysis will be largely invisible to service members within the Guard because they’ll use data that the Guard already collects, Detweiler said.

“The Army National Guard has been administering unit risk inventories, which ask questions that happen to measure the risk factors that the IPW is looking for,” he said. “In the same way, the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute’s climate survey is administered to the entire Army and Air Force. We have these and other associated tools, so we don’t have to add onto a Soldier’s plate.”

Surveys will provide half of the total data available to the IPW, Detweiler said. The other half will come through qualitative analysis, including surveys from medical and behavioral health teams, counselors, and chaplains.

“None of that data is driven to the individual level,” Detweiler said. “We’re looking for anything they’re seeing that the surveys may miss so that we can get a clear picture of the Vermont National Guard as a system: What parts of the system need work, and what kind of work should that be.”

Detweiler compared the analysis to diagnosing car trouble: “What part of the car is making the funny noise, and what should we do to fix it.”

The hiring process is set to start in Fiscal Year 2023 and will build the workforce up to a staff of four to six people.

“Analysis will be a large part of it,” Detweiler said. “Some employees may have prevention or information delivery roles. We’re still working on what that will look like. Once we have the workforce, we need to do our own analysis of where we are now, identify where we want to be and what we want to look like, then develop the strategy and tactics to move us there.”

The IPW is one of more than 80 recommendations provided by the Secretary of Defense’s Independent Review Commission of Sexual Assault in the Military and approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Army Resilience Director James Helis said in April that the service must shift its focus to true prevention.

“Commanders have lots of data available to them right now, but often they don’t have the staff with the knowledge, expertise, and time to analyze that data so they can better understand the organizational climate.”

Detweiler said the IPW will deliver analysis and recommendations that commanders can use to develop safer and more cohesive units.

“It comes down to leadership,” Detweiler said. “How do we foster leaders who are capable of training ready and lethal service members who will also take care of themselves, feel connected to one another, and treat those they live with well.”

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