MST: My Story
As it relates to MST, the military continues to turn a blind eye to the fact that there are enemies of the domestic kind within our ranks that need to be weeded out. The recent happenings at Ft. Hood, as well as other military installations stateside and overseas attest to the military’s rampant culpability to these crimes in the name of preserving the careers of “model soldiers” who are a model for everything but human decency as they trample every aspect of the military values that all branches attest to. This battle will never slow its pace and change will never come until the command structure is held accountable. The same command structure that has created a vast battlefield strewn about with casualties of a different kind. These casualties aren’t simply a number, they are sons and daughters, men and women, wives, and husbands. To look at these dedicated men and women who faithfully and without reserve, proudly wear the uniform as nothing more than collateral damage, is simply unconscionable. If the proper climate of safety remains absent and if the threat of retaliation remains posted as a very loud but invisible sentry, preventing the ability to report, the end to the cases and claims will never be realized, which seems counter intuitive to our creed of “no soldier left behind” that is touted repeatedly by those in every rank and file.
This is my story:
I couldn’t wait to join the military, not just to escape the sexual abuse at the hands of my father, but because every time I looked at our flag, I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I fondly remember the day I took the oath to defend this country with my peers. I had a strong sense of pride, knowing I would soon be a soldier, I had found a place to finally belong, and we were all in this together.
While in basic training at Ft. McClellan Alabama, rumors circulated that a mess Sergeant got himself demoted from E-5 to Specialist for inappropriate conversations with female recruits and that a particular drill sergeant was also sleeping with recruits. In my mind I didn’t understand this, nor did I want to believe it, after all, these men and women were now as close as we could get to parents, as they spent every waking moment holding high the Army Values as the standard, while molding us into what the Army said we needed to be. I was happy and afraid at the same time when I arrived for basic training and cried the day I had to leave my Drill Sergeant “parents” and the place where I had known safety. These men and women embodied courage and taught us the importance of trusting and depending on others to me and my newly minted soldier peers that I had grown to love and respect during one of the most challenging and life changing experiences of my life. This newfound courage, ability to trust and depending on others, and feeling valued and respected was dissolved within a few months of serving on active duty, at Ft. Meade in Maryland.
I was viewed, I guess, as somewhat of a loner, but one night I was invited by my “battle buddy” that had been assigned to me from my first day of arrival at the unit, to go with a group of soldiers to an establishment called the Traffic Bar just off post to hang out. After being there for a while most of the group except for me and a fellow soldier, decided to drive to Georgetown later in the evening to continue the party. We had an early formation the next morning, and I had gotten a ride from said battle buddy, but she assured me that a fellow soldier that lived in our barracks and that she trusted was safe and I could trust him to take me safely back to our barracks. Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case.
A short time after the group left, the soldier that was supposed to give me a ride back went to the bar and brought back two drinks. I tried to refuse the drink because I wasn’t given to drinking much at all, but he persuaded me saying, “It is only one little drink.” I drank a small bit of the drink but didn’t want any more of it. A few minutes later I felt weird and wasn’t sure why. I asked him if we could go back to base because I suddenly wasn’t feeling well. When I stood up, I felt dizzy, my vision was blurred, and I was quite afraid, as I had never experienced anything like this. He feigned concern very well as he sympathetically offered to help me to his car. I remember him guiding me out, opening the passenger door and helping me get into the car. The next memory I have is waking up in my room, daylight streaming into my window and seeing this virtual stranger pulling on his jeans.
I was very aware that something had happened, but I had absolutely no understanding of what, except that I knew he had raped me. He told me, “I had a great time last night” and left my room. I was in a total panic and very confused, as I would have never allowed anything like this to happen with anyone. I could not remember anything but being very confused as to why I was feeling suddenly and unexplainably ill and getting in his car the night before. When my extremely hung-over battle buddy returned, I told her what had transpired. When I told her I didn’t remember what happened she looked a bit confused and simply told me, “You do what you want to do, but you are relatively new to the unit, you were at a bar, and it will be your word against his.” With that, she left me sitting on my bed in the room we shared and left. A short time later she moved out of our room into her own. It was, at that moment, I realized that the small town that never locked their doors was far behind me, but the same dangers I left seemed to have followed. The dreams I had of a military career grew a lot dimmer that morning. I had to look at this guy for the next several months, in every formation, every time I passed him in the hall on the way to my room, until I moved out of the barracks. I ETS’s from active duty several months later and left it all behind me, but the sound of the phrase, Battle Buddy, made me cringe for a very long time, and for the entire fourteen years I served, I would get angry every time I had to check the box after every sexual harassment briefing.
Seven years later, while serving in the Army National Guard, I worked for Counter Drug. One morning while speaking to a group of high schoolers, I was assigned to deliver instruction on Date Rape Drugs. I hadn’t had a chance to really learn this module as much as I had wanted to, only briefly scanning the materials. While explaining the portion that covered the effects of GHB I realized at that moment what had truly happened to me years before. I was drugged! It really happened to me and not “just everyone else!” I felt angry and violated all over again, but I felt that too much time had transpired to do anything about what happened to me. From that day on when I was given the opportunity to present on GHB, I felt I was teaching young men and women how not to be a victim. I thought that being able to present the material and help the students was a very small way of making up for the shame I still carried for not doing more to protect myself, as well as knowing that my failure to report enabled this predator to do this to more women. That is a heavy load of guilt that one bears but is never free of, because there is no way to go back and make it right.
This load of guilt came back to bear even more heavily when I discovered two years ago in 2020, that my sister, then 14, as well as my brother then 16, became the victims of my father’s sexual abuse because I joined the Army leaving them vulnerable to his victimization. I never would have imagined this as I falsely assumed he chose me because I wasn’t his biologically and they were. I remain “0 for who knows how many” when you add my stepsiblings to the string of women that may have been victims after me at the hands of my rapist. These two life changing events lay dormant and are affected by things that become the most unlikely triggers at the most unwanted times, without warning, even all these years later. I never fully learned how to harness the effects of these events to counter those triggers. I simply do my best not to overreact emotionally to situations and do my best not to internalize them.
Thirty-six years later, in many units and pervasive across every branch of our military, sexual assault continues to happen, while the perpetrators are given an unspoken pass and the victims are silenced with nowhere to run or turn. Investigating, prosecuting, and replacing a bad soldier with a new soldier that can accomplish their duties without committing such atrocities, takes mere weeks. Fully mending physical and phycological wounds, recovering countless hours lost in counseling, and restoring feelings of self-worth and dignity, can take a lifetime, if taking one’s life is not seen as a more viable solution. My faithful service to the military versus what I, in some ways continue to endure, leaves the scales unfairly unbalanced. Retiring as a female Command Sergeants Major was how I planned to leave my mark on the military. Sadly, the senseless trauma that the military should have protected me from, left an indelible mark on me.
Last year I reached out to a VSO in Tallahassee, and he was very kind to me. He agreed to assist me in filing my claim and recommended that I go to a local counselor from a VSO and that this would be part of the process of my claim. I had to tell my story to the VA counselor, and it became very obvious to me that she was clearly determined to attribute my PTSD to the sexual abuse that I suffered at the hands of my father. I had already been to years of therapy for the issues stemming from my home life and had made phenomenal progress I gladly accomplished what I deemed as my escape to the Army, only to be drugged and raped at the hands of a fellow soldier 3 months after entering active duty. It took a lot of courage to reach out for help, but once again, I felt betrayed once more by the military and decided to discontinue my claim. I can clearly handle this on my own.