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NEWS | March 24, 2021

‘Buddy Aid’ training takes new approach to sexual assault

By A.J. Coyne Joint Force Headquarters - Virginia National Guard

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Eight Army National Guard victim advocates from five states attended a new training program designed to help respond to sexual assault.

The March 1-4 training on “Buddy Aid – First Response to Sexual Assault” was sponsored by the office of the Virginia National Guard Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. Participants included military and civilians from the National Guard Bureau’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in Delaware, Maryland, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

“Buddy Aid is first response to sexual assault,” explained Maj. Bridget Flannery, South Dakota National Guard SHARP master trainer and the developer of Buddy Aid. “What do you say? What do you do when someone discloses to you that they’ve been hurt this way? You’re applying the tourniquet. That’s Buddy Aid.”

“Buddy Aid is about supporting a victim of sexual assault just as one who encountered an IED,” said Henry Motley, Joint Force Headquarters- Virginia sexual assault response coordinator. “Both are great threats to mission, our military, and most of all, our uniformed members.”

Buddy Aid was developed based on a South Dakota National Guard unit’s experience while deployed to Afghanistan. While serving as the ranking unit victim advocate and tactical intelligence officer, Flannery realized that sexual assault was the most likely threat Soldiers would face. The unit examined how it treated sexual assault and determined it was radically different than how it treated other adversarial kinetic threats.

The unit wanted to ensure Soldiers responded “with a training-induced muscle-memory mindset” like they do to any other kinetic threat, according to Flannery.

“Just like we train for First Aid or suicide prevention, all Soldiers should know their ‘action on contact’ for someone who’s just disclosed having been assaulted,” Flannery said. “Buddy Aid trains Soldiers on what is and is not appropriate when someone discloses an assault. It further prepares them to respond if there’s been no disclosure, but they suspect an assault has occurred.

“The goal is to provide immediate care and actions to prevent sexual assault and care for our victims,” Motley said.

Following Buddy Aid training, Soldiers will be able to recognize that sexual assault should be included in deliberate risk assessments, battle drills, mission briefs, rock drills, pre-combat checks/pre-combat inspections and injects during field and staff training exercises. This operationalization is what creates the preventative factors.

“These actions create harder targets, contributing to a climate of prevention,” Flannery said.

Buddy Aid destigmatizes the conversation of sexual assault by using operational language consistent with other threats, like 1-plus-1, rules of engagement, escalation of force, and adversary.

“This language further contributes to a climate of prevention. Actions follow words, and words have meaning,” Flannery said. “Buddy Aid makes prevention and response to Sexual Assault part of Soldier work – not something we do in addition to.”

Buddy Aid also recognizes that victims shouldn’t suffer alone. Victims should be safe to disclose, report, and get help following a sexual assault. Sexual assault remains a “high probability – high impact” threat and is the most likely threat Soldiers face, according to Flannery. Therefore, Buddy Aid prepares Soldiers to render immediate and effective care.

With the support of the Warrior Resilience Fitness and Innovation Incubator, Flannery is building a bench of trainers to disseminate Buddy Aid training across the National Guard.

“Buddy Aid is preparing Soldiers at all levels to present hard targets by destigmatizing the conversation around sexual assault and by incorporating sexual assault into daily operations,” Flannery said.

Predators will then seek softer targets and their hunting grounds within the National Guard will decrease, according to Flannery. Once that is achieved, readiness and retention will improve as well.

Buddy Aid was awarded the National Guard Bureau’s Excellence in Prevention Award in 2020 and is being reviewed for application for suicide prevention because of its novel, cross-cutting, operational approach.