I had a childhood dream of joining the Air Force. When I was in high school, I finally enlisted. I enlisted with the idea that I was joining another extended family and that they take care of their own.
I had a little bit of difficulty adjusting to military life the first few months, but none the less, I pressed on because this was something that I dreamed of. I was determined to make it work. After I got to my first duty station, I settled in and got the hang of it. Life was good.
After only a few months at my first duty station, I had my first encounter with a master sergeant who was not part of my chain of command, although he worked with my office regularly. Given that we had such frequent contact with his office, he was good friends with many of the senior NCOs in my unit. Often when I went to work, he was there just sitting around shooting the breeze with people in my office, even though he had no legitimate work-related purpose for actually being there. He constantly made comments about my physical appearance and my body. He would tell me that I had a nice behind and that I should bend over so I can learn how the big boys do it. One day, I told him he was not my supervisor, he was not in my chain of command, and if he had an issue with my appearance that was work-related (i.e. not up to Air Force standards), he could discuss it with me, my supervisor or flight chief, and that all other comments were unwelcome and off-limits. I then booted him from my office one day. I worked in the Command Post, so I put the controller busy light on, which meant he had to leave. He took this to my flight chief and said that I had disrespected his rank. I was pulled aside and spoken to. When I told my flight chief why I said and did what I did, he told me that he would talk to the NCO in question, and it went no further. But I was labeled as a trouble-maker for saying something.
Fast forward a few months. Another junior enlisted airman came into my room late at night and attempted to assault me. He was the CQ on duty that night and had keys to all of the rooms. I was in my room sleeping and woke up with this man on top of me, trying to take off my clothes. I managed to get him to leave. I was very shaken and went to my flight chief the very next morning and told him what happened to me the previous night. He immediately notified the first sergeant, and an investigation ensued. At the end of the investigation, I was told that the Airman involved received a letter of reprimand and that was the only action that would be taken. This individual was part of a security/law enforcement troop. I could not go anywhere on base without getting looked, pointed, and laughed at. His troops would stare, laugh, and point at me while I was eating in dining halls. I was constantly pulled over on base, and they made my life extremely difficult. I had to face this man all the time as we were kept on the same base.
I was deeply troubled by these incidents and started to act out in subtle ways. I was more withdrawn and less socially active. I started to feel depressed.
Then, in the summer of 1995, I was raped. I admit that I had been drinking that night. I was walking back to my dorm room and there was a pavilion in the middle of the courtyard. There were a few people that I knew playing cards there so I stopped to say hello and talked for a little while. A few people left, and I was there with two guys whom I knew, but did not know well. I was feeling uncomfortable and leaving when they said they would walk me back. When we got toward the building, I started to go the other way. They said, “Let’s go to our room and have more drinks.” I said no, but they grabbed me. Each one of them grabbed one of my arms and dragged me to their dorm. One man held me down and watched, while the other raped me. He was extremely rough. I had vaginal bleeding and was extremely sore. When he was done, he told me, “You can go now.” I got dressed and realized that I had grass stains and rug burns all over my legs from when they dragged me. I was in extreme pain and terrified to report them because of the fact that when the incident involving my master sergeant occurred, nothing happened except for a letter of reprimand and my life was more miserable.
After this incident, I became very withdrawn, more so than before. I told a counselor about my rape and she said that it was going to be left off-the-record and that if I reported it, I would likely face more ridicule. I let be, but I went into a downward emotional spiral.
I had already been labeled a troublemaker and a whistleblower for reporting the previous incidents. I failed an inspection and was disciplined for it, although all other performance reports were satisfactory. I was sent for a command directed mental health evaluation and since I was getting this evaluation, I was entitled to Area Defense Counsel. The evaluation was to span several appointments over the course of a month or so. I went to most of the appointments and at some point, Area Defense Counsel told me not to comply with any more questions from the evaluator, so I did not. At that point, I spoke to the attorney who was handling my case on behalf of the command. She said that it was her intent to discharge me with a personality disorder, even though she did not know if I had one. Since I had stopped the mental health evaluation at the advice of the counsel, the JAG officer in charge of my separation and my commander said they were left with no other option than to separate me administratively for minor disciplinary infractions, and said that my duty performance was substandard, even though I had copies of performance reports that indicated otherwise.
At the time, I was also seeing a military psychiatrist who was not part of the mental health evaluation. He told me that he believed the reason I was behaving erratically, was due to PTSD and depression, but needed more time to make a definitive diagnosis. He believed that I should have been separated by a Medical Evaluation Board, but my commander was hell-bent on getting me separated right away. I was separated with a general discharge, under honorable conditions. I lost my GI Bill, but was still able to go to school under chapter 31. I was granted 20% service connection initially. After 15 years of battling with the VA, I got to 100%, but I still suffer because of the general discharge. I have a hard time holding down a job today because despite treatment, my PTSD is worse and I have developed anxiety as well. I suffer in my interpersonal relationships with almost everyone and have a hard time trusting anyone in authority. I have nightmares and flashbacks and am heavily medicated to dull the pain and symptoms, which have not gone away for 19 years. I doubt they ever will. I was so ashamed to ever talk about what happened to me. I thought it was just me, but it turns out, it was not.
I was told that the Air Force takes care of their own. So much for that. I was put out of the Air Force that I dearly loved and left to fend for myself.
Someone has to change this system.