By Yvette Currie
Special contributor to Navy Installations Command Public Affairs
Coming aboard a Navy ship as a deployed resiliency counselor (DRC) during a powerful transitional time for a culture focused on eradicating sexual assault, was humbling. The effort to imbed into the ship’s culture, yet remain alert as an ambassador for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, was a careful dance. At times, it was like being awash in a sea of tasks, faces, acronyms, lines and rituals. Other times it was like being a splinter in a smooth wooden floor.
Would ship’s culture continue to click along on all cylinders, unaffected by the presence of a civilian who was not entrenched in the military way? Would things radically change? Would an outsider’s perspective resonate?
DRCs are licensed providers who provide short term, non-medical counseling and are trained in all matters of sexual assault prevention, as well as general clinical knowledge. DRCs are also a supplementary resource for the ship psychologist, and are the subject matter experts for the teaching of all things related to resiliency.
As I met with the crew aboard my ship, a massive nuclear-powered aircraft carrier home to more than 5,000 Sailors, I began to notice the variety of perspectives regarding these sensitive issues being tackled. Some Sailors appeared to want to keep things status quo, citing “old Navy” ways and a dislike for the new “sensitive Navy” that is now “no longer fun.” Others ran towards transition with open arms, eager to implement changes to long-held ritual and behavior in the name of progress. Leaders requesting assistance for their Sailors were enthusiastic to send their Sailors to the DRC to learn resiliency skills, and many expressed a desire to speak openly about the tough issues they have faced during their career. One career Sailor, of nearly 20 years, indicated never feeling this comfortable to express concerns regarding professionalism in the workplace or discomfort with the sexual climate. I think this encapsulates the very purpose for the presence of a DRC.
DRCs can also be called upon to assist with focus groups and training, as we interact with hundreds or even thousands of Sailors across the spectrum of ranks and job specialties, both in individual sessions as well as groups. We interact with Sailors on the mess decks, on the bridge and in the wardrooms. The range of feedback can be quite robust, unfiltered and raw. Trained as group facilitators and capable of conflict resolution implementation, DRCs can be a valuable tool to take the “cultural temperature” of Sailor satisfaction, fear of reporting and the overall ship’s climate. Their involvement in this process can evoke discussion and creates a forum for authentic feedback.
Prior to implementing many of the initiatives devoted to combatting sexual assault in our military like deploying DRCs, the Navy noticed that there were some inherent barriers to reporting these crimes. Understanding Sailors’ reticence to reporting became extraordinarily clear. While deployed, Sailors live in close proximity to one another for long periods of time, at times unable to communicate with family, friends or the outside world. They become literally emotionally dependent on their shipboard relationships. The sense of belonging is a human need, and it would often win out when faced with the perceived notion that making a sexual assault report could risk alienation from peers. This notion of alienation is a powerful one, causing some to withdraw and isolate themselves even further, increasing the risk of suicidal ideation. This is why resiliency is so important; this is sometimes a life or death situation.
The efforts to change sexual assault culture are robust, with leadership and Sailors appearing to place more confidence in the process. The DRC presence adds traction to this shift as a symbol of the significant effort the Navy is making. DRCs are able to observe ship culture with a fresh set of eyes and can spot impropriety, if present, taking action as required. Working from inside the ship, DRCs provide training in an innovative manner and provide feedback outside the system where the results of their hard work help to promote a further understanding of the challenge of resiliency. Though change may appear slow, it is happening. The presence of a DRC and the confidence, freedom, and excitement it engenders is inspiring. This is good work.
Editor’s note: Yvette Currie is a deployed resiliency counselor under Navy Installations Command’s Fleet and Family Readiness directorate.