Story by Russell Toof on 07/03/2019Julia Armstrong is the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program Manager for Regional Health Command Europe. Figuratively and literally though, she has been on quite a journey the last twenty years.
Armstrong grew up in Campbelltown, on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia, and in 1999 took a "leap of faith" and flew halfway around the world to North Carolina on a two-year working visa.
"I was an elementary school teacher and decided to get back into teaching after a two-year break," she said. "I joined Visiting International Faculty' which brings teachers from around the world to teach in the U.S. in positions that traditionally had difficulty being filled by local candidates."
She looks back fondly on that transition two decades ago and still has a good laugh at a big misconception Americans have about being from Australia.
"One of the things I still get asked about Australia, which is definitely not true, is, are there kangaroos and koalas everywhere?' There are plenty of areas of wildlife but it's not like I had animals running through my backyard."
After just a couple of days in the states, Armstrong was assigned to Ashley Elementary School in Fayetteville.
"The city and the Fort Bragg community was great. We got there with nothing and everyone came together to help myself and the other new teachers get setup with an apartment and furniture."
While working in Fayetteville, she meet her future husband, who at the time, was stationed at Fort Bragg on active duty. Fast forward a couple of years after marriage and other assignments around the world and she found herself working full-time with Army Community Service as the Volunteer Coordinator.
"I wanted to give back to the community so I started volunteering with Army Community Service while we were in Korea. I realized very quickly this was work that I enjoyed and then I moved into a full-time position with them when the opportunity presented itself."
Once SHARP became embedded under ACS, she was asked to transition and became trained as a Victim Advocate in 2011. SHARP provides awareness and prevention, training and education, victim advocacy, response, reporting and follow-up for sexual harassment and sexual assault issues.
Armstrong has been with RHCE since March of this year. "I'm in much more of an administrative role now vs. meeting face-to-face with victims," she said. "Currently, I help make sure the program as a whole is meeting the needs of this command."
As SHARP is a commander's program, SHARP professionals assist commanders with developing prevention efforts to educate leaders and Soldiers on sexual harassment and sexual assault, but also to develop a command climate with a culture of trust, safety, first-class response to victims, accountability and safe reporting.
"It is a very emotionally draining job, due to the highly sensitive and personal nature of the cases, but also incredibly rewarding work as there are many excellent resources available such as counselling, legal support, advocacy, medical and spiritual care, all designed to help a victim on their journey to recovery."
"The most important part for me is the work we do with victims and their supporters," Armstrong added. "It is important to build relationships with the other professionals that assist victims and to work closely as the Sexual Assault Response Team. This team develops a holistic support plan to assist victims throughout the entire process and is built on the needs of the individual we are helping."
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault, you can visit sexualassault.army.mil for help and resources. Across the European Theater of Operations, contact a SHARP Professional via the SHARP 24/7 Helpline 53-SHARP (DSN: 537-4277) or from Off Post/Civilian number +49 (0) 611-143-537-4277.