FORT BLISS – In today’s military, leaders across the board are committed to eliminating sexual assault, sexual harassment, and associated retaliation.
The military defines sexual harassment as any form of sex discrimination or unwelcome sexual advances and sexual favors. Sexual assault remains a serious issue within the U.S. military and the Department of Defense is focused on creating the appropriate culture to eliminate sexual assault and encourage a personal commitment from all service members to do their part to create a healthy environment.
Karina Figueroa-Galvan, a William Beaumont Army Medical Center civilian employee who is a specialist in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System office, exemplified the DoD’s personal commitment to stopping sexual harassment, by stepping in and speaking up when a fellow coworker and active duty Soldier was being harassed by a customer where they work.
Figueroa-Galvan witnessed a customer make advances at Pfc. Angelic Castro, a patient administration specialist with WBAMC. Castro repeatedly would tell the customer no, after advancement attempts were made towards her.
Both women had seen this specific customer already visit the office several times without having the proper documentation for his identification card. On this particular visit, Castro asked the customer to stay behind the newly installed plastic partitions for COVID-19 protection, but he ignored her requests. Castro had to repeat requests for him to stand behind the barrier, which he eventually did.
He then continued to ask her personal questions, referring to what transportation methods she took to and from work. Castro already felt uneasy about the whole situation and when it came to conduct fingerprints for the customer, the machine was not working correctly. Figueroa-Galvan stepped in to assist and then asked him to try again, and he stated, “Let’s see if Castro has the magic touch,” and he proceeded to touch Castro’s shoulder. Castro firmly repeated to him, no, yet he continued to attempt to touch her.
It was at this moment that Figueroa-Galvan asked the customer to wait outside the office, after hearing Castro struggling with the customer’s attempts in advancements towards her.
“I saw that Castro was very uncomfortable with the uninvited touching and inappropriate behavior” said Figueroa-Galvan. “I needed to speak up because he was going to be a provider. He might try this same behavior with a patient. I spoke up about the situation before it escalated.”
The supervisor of both employees, Sgt. 1st Class Dalgleish Descartes, came to see what the matter was with the fingerprint machine, and it was at this point that Figueroa-Galvan informed him of the customer’s inappropriate behavior. Descartes took over the customer’s needs and ensured the customer left the office. He then asked Castro to email him specifics about the encounter in order to make a sexual harassment report.
According to the DoD, the total number of reported sexual assaults increased 10% between 2018 and 2019. The Army stresses reporting thoroughly because it allows victims to get the care and support they need and enables the Army to hold offenders appropriately accountable for their actions. Commanders are empowered to act on unrestricted reports and are expected to care for victims compassionately.
In this situation, the customer who was supposed to become a provider and was harassing Castro, was not allowed to continue employment during his in-processing and never became a provider with WBAMC. The customer’s employment was terminated within 24 hours of the report being filed.
If it wasn’t for her coworker and her supervisor, the harassing individual may have continued his toxic behavior and Castro may not have been able to come forward.
“I just would like to bring awareness and let anybody out there going through something similar to not feel alone and speak up,” said Castro.
There are too many stories similar to this one about sexual harassment, unfortunately, and the DoD is committed to abolishing this toxic behavior through awareness and prevention.
The Army’s prevention initiative is a primary focus on achieving cultural change to eliminate sexual assault and sexual harassment from the ranks.
1st Armored Division is tackling the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment with OPERATION IRONCLAD, which is a concerted effort to rebuild trust and confidence by eliminating sexual assault and sexual harassment, suicide and extremism amongst their formations. OPERATION IRONCLAD began in February 2021.
Maj. Gen. Sean C. Bernabe, commanding general of 1AD, presented Castro, Figueroa-Galvan, and Descartes with a coin for doing the right thing in a situation like this.
“A key goal of OPERATION IRONCLAD is making Fort Bliss a non-permissive environment for sexual harassment and sexual assault,” said Bernabe. “To achieve that goal, we must all have the courage to speak up, to intervene, and to stop those who harass or those who seek to assault our teammates. Ms. Figueroa and Descartes had the courage to intervene and follow-through decisively. Castro had the courage to share her story with her teammates and with our community—all in the hopes that her story will inspire others to intervene if confronted with a similar scenario. I am glad we have heroes like these three in our ranks!”
For more information about sexual assault and sexual harassment visit the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response webpage or Facebook page.