At the Pentagon today, the Defense Department recognized the top-level performance of more than two dozen department and service employees who work in the sexual assault prevention and response community.

I am in awe of each of you who bring this work to life; you play a critical role in tackling one of the department’s toughest challenges. … This can be really difficult, draining work, often done with limited resources, and yet, you’re getting it done.”

Beth Foster, Executive Director, Office of Force Resiliency

Recognized were sexual assault response coordinators, or SARCs, who are personnel at an installation who provide confidential support and coordinate care for victims of sexual assault throughout the investigation and recovery process. Also recognized were sexual assault prevention and response victim advocates, or SAPR VAs, who provide one-on-one, confidential support, education and resources to a victim of sexual assault.

Combating sexual assault in the armed forces has been a top priority for Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III since the first day he took office, Foster said, and the award recipients are on the front lines of furthering the secretary’s goals.

Since that time, Foster said, DOD’s sexual assault and prevention programs have undergone a complete review by the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military. Following the release of the commission’s report, the department has worked hard to implement its recommendations, Foster said.  

As an example of DOD’s recent efforts, Foster said, the Offices of Special Trial Council reached its full operational capability in December. This means that prosecution of offenses, such as sexual assault, are now prosecuted by specially trained military attorneys who are outside the traditional chain of command.

“This historic change, one of the biggest changes to the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] in over 50 years, is intended to promote fairness and greater trust in our military justice system,” she said. 

Most recently, DOD released the Fiscal Year 2023 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. For the first time in nearly a decade, the department saw a decrease in sexual assault prevalence, she said. 

“We wouldn’t be seeing improvements on this without your critical work,” Foster said.   

In 2023, there were 8,515 sexual assault reports handled by SARCs and SAPR VAs, said Nathan Galbreath, SAPRO acting director. Additionally, there were 3,324 SAPR-related inquiries, 736 expedited transfer requests for service members, and 695 submissions to the Catch a Serial Offender Program. 

“Every one of these actions represents assistance rendered by a dedicated response professional and, oftentimes, not during the hours of 9 to 5,” Galbreath said. “Victim assistance is a calling, and we are so fortunate that the SARCs and VAs with us today answered that call.” 

While the DOD has in the last year seen progress in its effort to combat sexual assault and to provide assistance to victims, the department has a lot of work to do, Foster said. She challenged SARCs and SAPR VAs to continue their work to aid victims while at the same time working to eliminate sexual assault and harassment from happening in the first place. 

“We have got to keep our foot on the gas,” she said. “We’ve got to stay focused on this.” 

DOD leadership, Foster said, is committed to combating sexual assault and to providing the resource investments needed to ensure the advancements being made are enduring.

Recipients of the 2024 Liz Blanc Exceptional SARC of the Year Award include:  

  • Army recipient: Dr. Hai-Wen Chu, 8th Army SHARP, South Korea 
  • Marine Corps recipient: Latricia Kamins, Air Station Miramar, California 
  • Navy recipient: Alexander Arce, National Base San Diego & Naval Air Facility El Centro, California 
  • Air Force recipient: Capt. Samantha Van Vynck, Hill Air Force Base, Utah 
  • Space Force recipient: Carly Martinez, Vandenberg Space Force Base, California 
  • National Guard recipient: Erica Davidson, North Dakota National Guard 
  • Coast Guard recipient: Michael Jordy, U.S. Coast Guard Base New Orleans, Louisiana 

Recipients of the 2024 Liz Blanc Exceptional SAPR VA of the Year Award include:  

  • Army: Sgt. 1st Class Chelsea Wheelehan, 66th Military Intelligence Brigade 
  • Marine Corps: 1st Lt. Elizabeth Hosie, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Camp Pendelton, California 
  • Navy: Petty Officer 1st Class Wayne McGonigal, Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Louisiana 
  • Air Force: Sierra M. Elliott, 1st Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Florida 
  • National Guard: Senior Master Sgt. Joseph Horne, 132nd Wing, Des Moines, Iowa 
  • Coast Guard: Lt. j.g. Kirsten Carson, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Mobile, Alabama 

Recipients of the 2024 Promoting Excellence in Prevention Award include:  

  • Army: Dr. Corrine Wilsey; Retired Col. Mindy Kimball; Maj. Jessica Dawson; and Dr. Stephanie Marsh, U. S. Military Academy, West Point, New York 
  • Marine Corps: Morgan Humberger, Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendelton, California 
  • Air Force: Sierra Elliott and Lisa Wright, 1st Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Florida 
  • Space Force: Jessica Ditson, Nicholas Mowes, Jessica Schroeder, Katherine Hammer, Hugo Escobar and Melissa Dashner, Peterson Space Force Base, Colorado 
  • Coast Guard: Marta Wiecha-Swierczek, USCG Atlantic Area

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