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Workplace cleanup underway for offensive material

Jun. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Workplace inspections are underway across the Army for material that might be construed as inappropriate, degrading or offensive.

Workplace inspections are underway across the Army for material that might be construed as inappropriate, degrading or offensive.

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Workplace inspections are underway across the Army for material that might be construed as inappropriate, degrading or offensive.

Consider that sexy calendar, that Sports Illustrated swimsuit special, even that fitness magazine as likely to be seized as contraband. This is the latest front in the Defense Department’s campaign to root out materials and behaviors that could be contributing to the growing scourge of sex assaults and harassment.

A tasker went out across the force June 11, said Army spokesman Troy Rolan.

In it, commanders, sergeants major or representatives in a supervisory position are tasked with conducting a “comprehensive visual inspection of all Army workplaces by July 1,” Rolan said.

The Army inspections are in line with a directive from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that requires these checks at installations worldwide.

Hagel’s May 6 order is part of the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response strategic plan, a broad effort to crack down on sexual assault and the growing perception that military culture tolerates it within the ranks.

The searches, required under a measure called “Ensuring Appropriate Command Climate,” will be similar to those conducted by the Air Force late last year.

Each leader or supervisor who conducts an inspection must submit a report on their findings; those reports will be compiled by the various commands and submitted to the Army deputy chief of staff for personnel (G-1), Rolan said.

The Army’s report will then be submitted to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness no later than July 31, said Paul Prince, also an Army spokesman.

Know the rules

If your desk or common area hasn’t been inspected, here’s what you need to know:

Why now?

These inspections were ordered after recently released statistics revealed an alarming spike in sexual assaults in the military. Newly released estimates show about 26,000 troops were sexually assaulted last year. That’s an average of about 70 service members each day, according to the results of an anonymous survey.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have called top military brass on the carpet and demanded changes, as has Hagel.

“This department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need,” Hagel said May 7.

What is considered offensive?

This includes openly displayed digital, printed or other media that are sexually oriented, sexually degrading or sexually offensive.

According to Army Regulation 600-20, “Command Policy,” nonverbal sexual harassment includes printed material, for example displaying “sexually oriented pictures or cartoons; using sexually oriented screen savers on one’s computer; or sending sexually oriented notes, letters, faxes or e-mail,” according to the regulation.

The regulation also addresses hostile environments, which occur when soldiers or civilians are subjected to “offensive, unwanted and unsolicited comments, or behaviors of a sexual nature.”

When Air Force leaders conducted their inspections, they found more than 32,000 “inappropriate” items.

Some were obvious: porn, profanity-laced comics, torture videos and even a pubic hair placed in a logbook.

But they also removed milder items, such as copies of an Air Force Times newspaper — a sister publication of Army Times — that had a picture of female airmen breast-feeding on the cover.

Other debatable items: World War II-era aircraft nose art, a Princess Leia action figure and “What’s Your Poo Telling You?” — a book written by a doctor that explains what health information you can glean from your bowel movements.

These and other items led some airmen to criticize inspectors as being overzealous.

When will inspections occur?

Army inspections are underway now; officials said inspections of Army offices in the Pentagon were completed June 11.

The Army will complete its inspections and submit the appropriate reports by July 1.

What about the other services?

The Navy and Marines have required all inspections completed by June 28. Inspection results will be due to the Navy secretary by July 12.

Who’s conducting the inspections?

Senior commanders will oversee the visual inspections, and they may be executed by a local commander, sergeant major or a representative in a supervisory position, Prince said.

The Navy and Marine Corps are conducting the same inspections across their installations, and like in the Army, local command leadership has been entrusted to conduct the inspections.

What areas will be inspected?

All workplaces and common areas on an Army-controlled installation, reserve center, building, armory, depot and so on.

Senior commanders also must ensure all garrison areas that are not under the control of a tenant unit are inspected. This includes food courts, conference centers, gyms and recreational centers, and other public places.

What isn’t subject to inspection?

Army officials did not provide those details. The Department of the Navy directed that inspectors are not to dig into government laptop or desktop computers, except where there are inappropriate screen savers. Also free from inspection: individual barracks rooms and personal living quarters, assigned desks and cabinets, personal clothing, lockers, purses, briefcases, vehicles and electronics, such as iPads or iPhones.

So my work computer is off limits?

Again, Army officials did not provide details, but remember that it’s government property and subject to monitoring.

What happens if inspectors find materials they deem inappropriate?

If offensive or degrading material is found, senior commanders will direct that those items on display be removed, Prince said.

This affects materials that are in plain view, and includes any digital, printed or other media that are openly displayed.

If unlawful material such as child pornography or banned substances are discovered during the course of the visual inspection, commanders will notify the appropriate law enforcement personnel and legal advisers.

What else is planned?

Hagel earlier ordered top brass to develop ways to hold commanders accountable for maintaining a command climate of “dignity and respect.” He set a deadline of November for the service chiefs to provide details on how that will be measured and how that assessment might be included into the promotion or command-screening process. Under another initiative, high-level commanders will be provided command-climate surveys of subordinate commands to look for potential problems in subordinate commands.

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