'Thunder Stripes' Builds Character, Trust, and Resilience
by U.S. Army 1st Lt. Megan Gephart
April 22, 2021
The 25th Infantry Division Artillery held a three-day series of tactical events for Senior Non-Commissioned Officers from April 6-8, 2021, on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, which was designed to build cohesive teams by elevating these key leaders’ physical and mental toughness, camaraderie, and commitment to the organization and the Army values.
Senior noncommissioned officers assigned assigned to the 25th Infantry Division Artillery participate in a shoot house exercise as part of a three-day series of rigorous, competitive tactical events for our Senior Non-Commissioned Officers from April 6-8, 2021, on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii., The event, in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Prevention Month, was designed to build cohesive teams by elevating key leaders’ physical and mental toughness, camaraderie, and commitment to the organization and Army values. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jessica B. Scott - April 7, 2021)
The challenge, envisioned and coined “Thunder Stripes” by the Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Fluharty, senior enlisted leader, 25th DIVARTY, aimed to build character, trust, and resilience through shared hardship while reinforcing senior noncommissioned officers’ responsibility to protect Soldiers by preventing sexual assault, and reflecting on the impact and prevalence of these harmful behaviors within our formation.
“The purpose of Thunder Stripes was to bring senior leaders together and really get after building a cohesive team,” said Fluharty. “Every echelon within our Army has their own team, squad, or section. This was my team, which consisted of my Operations Sergeant Major, the First Sergeants, and some of the Platoon Sergeants throughout the Division Artillery.”
One of the primary objectives of this voluntary event was to actualize this Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month’s theme: "Building Cohesive Teams through Character, Trust, & Resilience: Protecting Our People Protects Our Mission.”
“I believe that having the hard conversations, identifying and correcting harmful behaviors whenever they present themselves are the best ways to spread awareness and prevent future harmful behaviors from happening,” said Sgt. 1st Class Justin Banner, brigade communications platoon sergeant. “As leaders we have to lead by example and correct behaviors or actions that are detrimental to the good order and discipline within our organization.
Starting with a classroom discussion to set the stage for “Thunder Stripes,” Fluharty reiterated the importance of this commitment and accountability to each other, and internalization of the values integral to being a Soldier. He went on to describe how teal patches would represent a driving factor and play a role in the event.
Following the discussion, seven of the Brigade’s Senior NCOs stepped forward to wear a teal 25th Infantry Division patch while completing the physically and mentally grueling set of tasks, as a sign of representation of the seven Sexual Assault victims within 25th DIVARTY’s formation over the last 18 months.
“The teal patches have raised curiosity from all angles,” said Banner. “Soldiers across the formation have asked ‘why, why were we wearing teal patches?’ By wearing them, we have created conversations and raised the awareness to great levels. Everyone is talking about it and I think that is great for the SHARP program.”
Fluharty explained how this event brought sexual assault awareness and prevention to the forefront.
“The senior non-commissioned officers of this organization wanted to wear those patches, and that’s what gave them their purpose to finish this event - to take those patches, wear them, and think about those individuals,” said Fluharty.
The multi-day training event included a combat-focused physical training session, a raid of an urban objective, a casualty treatment and evacuation medical lane at the simulation center, the Air Assault obstacle course, rappel tower, night land navigation, jungle operations and survival skills to include waterborne operations, and over 35 miles of rucking in-between.
Senior noncommissioned officers assigned to the 25th Infantry Division Artillery execute waterborne operations while participating in a three-day series of rigorous, competitive tactical events for our Senior Non-Commissioned Officers from April 6-8, 2021, on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jessica B. Scott - April 8, 2021)
In addition to the physical challenges, leaders shared minimal food and received little rest, bearing physical and mental fatigue as a representation for their fellow Soldiers who survived sexual assault.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Jackson, brigade senior fire control sergeant recalled, “Having a visual representation of a victim helps you understand that this is something prevalent among our ranks and makes it something that absolutely cannot go unseen or overlooked.”
One NCO would go on to identify the importance of being able to rely on those to your right and left.
“With a tighter knit team, it reduces the likelihood of SHARP-related incidents,” emphasized Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Dye, brigade fires operations noncommissioned officer and one of the Soldiers that wore the teal patch to raise awareness and maintain a constant reminder of the realities of this issue within our formation. “The experience showed me that no matter the situation thrown my way, I still had the mental fortitude and resilience to accomplish any task.”
Fluharty encouraged the NCOs to see empathy, inclusion, genuine care and concern for subordinates, and the steps to building cohesive teams grounded in treating individuals with dignity and respect as critical in preventing sexual violence, all forms of racism, discrimination, extremism, and suicide.
“Part of the discussion when we got together in the classroom on day one was ‘what is your purpose and what motivates you?’” emphasized Fluharty. “This is My Squad” — every Soldier and leader is called to care for and strengthen our brothers and sisters in arms. He went on to say, “It’s all about taking care of each other and helping our buddies out to our left and right to get to whatever the end state is.”
“These individuals have seen in themselves change throughout the week, which they can pass along to their subordinates,” Fluharty closed. "And more so than anything, I’m enormously proud of everybody that participated.”
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