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NEWS | May 8, 2023

Army veteran and acclaimed poet visits Tobyhanna to promote sexual assault awareness and prevention

By Mr. Nicolo Manzo, Mr. Justin Kucharski and Ms. Danielle Weinschenk

Acclaimed spoken word poet Edward “Obbie West” Wilson visited Tobyhanna Army Depot (TYAD) on Wednesday, May 3, to speak about the importance of sexual assault awareness and prevention at TYAD’s “Not Just April” event.

Army veteran and former warrant officer Wilson, or Obbie West as he is known on stage, served as the keynote speaker at the event. West was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles. He was a witness to regular violence on the LA streets and grew up in an abusive household. Wilson enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17 and his military career spanned 21 years, including a deployment to Iraq. Before retiring in 2019, Wilson called four states and three countries home. Serving our Nation afforded Wilson the opportunity for, in his words, “vast growth.” He attributed this growth to the different people, beliefs, cultures, countries and more he was exposed to during his time in the military.

One particular instance of growth came when West was introduced to a craft that would afford him the opportunity to share his story with the world. In 2011, Wilson was introduced to poetry in Killeen, TX, through the Killeen Poetry Slam. Wilson found “his lung” in poetry – a passion that has seen him speak all over the world. Poetry gave Wilson a newfound outlet through which he could share his message. In 2017, Wilson decided to focus his poetry on a cause for which he is a major advocate - sexual assault awareness and prevention. Members of Team Tobyhanna may have seen Wilson’s work in this U.S. Army Sexual Harassment /Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) video.

Employee Services Center (ESC) Chief Ricardo Horn said following a successful training centered around West’s SHARP video, members of ESC were keen to bring West to TYAD.

“Feedback from the training was so positive, this was something we were really excited to make happen.”

Each April, TYAD observes Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) to reaffirm the commitment toward maintaining a safe and healthy working environment, in which all members of Team Tobyhanna can thrive.

The centerpiece of this year’s SAAPM observance was “Not Just April.” The event occurring outside of April was an intentional choice meant to serve as a reminder that sexual assault awareness and prevention is a cause that is to be championed all 12 months of the year.

In introducing West at the event, TYAD Chief of Staff Kristyn Smith reiterated Tobyhanna’s commitment to making this topic a yearlong discussion.

“Today’s presentation drives home the point that even though April has passed, SHARP is a topic that needs to be discussed all year long – not just April,” said Smith.

During the almost hour and a half presentation, West covered several topics including his own backstory and experiences with abuse, self-awareness, emotional intelligence, bystander intervention and leadership.

West detailed how we cannot control our emotions, but we can control the way we react to them, adding we must first recognize our internal emotions before we can recognize our external emotions. He noted that assault can happen to both genders and that the reaction should be the same.

West emphasized empathetic styles of leadership that seek to understand and empower survivors of sexual harassment or assault, saying “the absence of understanding breeds callousness.” He also spoke at length about bystander intervention. According to West, intervention is a process that cannot simply be boiled down to an order, but instead requires education and empowerment to prevent the “armed robbery of someone’s rights.”

For the many people in attendance, different aspects of the dynamic presentation resonated with them.

Representatives from the United States Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) SHARP Fusion Directorate visited TYAD for the presentation and were thrilled with it.

“The presentation was awesome. It was great to hear how he incorporated personal experiences into bystander intervention and continuum of harm. It tied back into the 2023 SAAPM theme of ‘Intervene, we are a team: There is an US in trust. Can they trust in you?’,” said members of the directorate.

The presentation was received very well by several members of the audience, including Mike Sherin, Chief, Air Defense and Counter Fire Engineering Branch, Production Engineering Directorate and Paul Borosky, Director, Systems Integration and Support.

Sherin said, “I loved the presentation; it was very informative and will stick with me.”

Borosky said, “It was extremely moving to hear Obbie share his personal experiences. His poetic performance helped deliver the message in a more impactful way.”

Ricardo Horn, who was instrumental in getting West to TYAD, lauded West’s presentation and said it was the perfect way to put a bow on TYAD’s 2023 SAAPM events.

“Mr. West’s art compels us to reflect on our commitment to preventing sexual harassment and assault. His message is inspiring and challenges the audience to acknowledge personal biases that may interfere with bystander intervention. It is a privilege to have him wrap up Tobyhanna’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month with such a poignant experience, knowing his words will have a lasting influence in our community’s prevention efforts.”

After the presentation, Depot Commander Colonel Daniel L. Horn and Deputy Commander Rob Lantka presented West with a plaque as a token of gratitude for his presentation.

In presenting the award, Lantka read a portion of the inscription on the plaque, thanking West “for his unfiltered, thought-provoking presentation and commitment to the SHARP program.”

Col. Horn echoed the positive sentiments of many members of Team Tobyhanna and called on everyone to combat sexual violence.

“The presentation was astounding. We all must do more to combat sexual harassment and assault in the workplace and in the world.”

The Obbie West presentation and the SHARP program are TOBY2035 initiatives aligned with the Invest in Our People and Shape the Future lines of effort. The plan, which has two additional focus areas, strives to position Tobyhanna for success in the coming years as the Department of Defense's premier worldwide C5ISR readiness provider.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is a recognized leader in providing world-class logistics support for command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C5ISR) systems across the Department of Defense. Tobyhanna’s Corporate Philosophy, dedicated work force and electronics expertise ensure the depot is the Joint C5ISR provider of choice for all branches of the Armed Forces and industry partners.

Tobyhanna’s unparalleled capabilities include full-spectrum logistics support for sustainment, overhaul and repair, fabrication and manufacturing, engineering design and development, systems integration, post production software support, technology insertion, modification, foreign military sales and global field support to our joint warfighters.

About 3,100 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania. Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the command’s mission is to empower the Soldier with winning C5ISR capabilities.