Heidi’s Story

Heidi’s Story

I had recently arrived at March Air Force Base at the beginning of 1987 after Military Indoctrination for Medical Officers (MIMSO). I was excited about the nursing internship program. I had met a lot of really nice young people at MIMSO.

I drove by myself to March Air Force Base. I did not know anyone, and I really wanted to make a good impression and be liked. My apartment complex there did not have a gate or security or anything. It was right across the street from the base in Moreno Valley. I was told there were other officers housed there. I had a pool!

The evening of the gang rape, I had gone for a swim. I was wearing a one-piece speedo. I was amazed at how the steam was rising off the pool. The air was cold and the water was warm. Wrapped in a towel, I went back up to my apartment and noticed the door was open ajar. I figured I had left the door open, so I walked in. I really do not remember a whole lot of what happened next. I think there were several men in my apartment. I could not identify who they were or give much detail except I must have been hit over the head.

I woke up and everything was pitch black. I do not like the dark, and this scared me. I was feeling pain everywhere and when I tried to move my head, my hair was stuck to the carpet. It was blood that had dried, sticking my hair to the carpet. It took me a long time to work my head free. My swimsuit and towel were gone. Once I was free and could move, I crawled to the bathroom and turned on the light.

Everything was sore. I had bruises and hand imprints and cuts on my body. My pubic hair had some gunk that smelled like car oil on it. I felt a pain like someone was pulling my guts out. I turned on the shower and got in. Then I started to cry and cry and cry. I washed everything away.

My mother did not want me to go into the military. She was afraid I would be raped, killed, or something horrible would happen to me. I did not want my mother to know what I had just experienced.

I did not want to be labeled defective and sent home to my mom.

So I told myself nothing happened. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to get through the nursing internship and develop my nursing skills.

I remember that a month or so into our internship program, our instructor and coordinator who lived in the same apartment complex in Moreno Valley, right outside the gates of March Air Force Base had her apartment broken into and was beat up and raped by the thugs that broke into her apartment. I felt horribly guilty. I thought maybe if I had reported what happened to me, they might have been able to prevent this from happening to her.

The trauma from my rape prevented me from graduating with my peers from the internship program. My preceptorship and instruction was extended six weeks. I was having difficulty focusing and absorbing new information. I was not sleeping well. At that time, I was sent on a psychiatric evaluation. I cooperated, but did not disclose much information. I was not ready to articulate my experience to anyone. I eventually graduated from the nursing internship program after the six-week extension. I was approved after the psychiatric evaluation to be sent to my next duty station.

I arrived at Edwards Air Force Base in May 1987. It was a remote site in the middle of miles and miles of desert! I did not expect to be living on the base, but I was assigned to housing on the base because there was nothing around for miles and miles. I started working as a nurse on a medical surgical unit. My evaluations were positive, and I was adjusting to working as a nurse.

During this time, however, I began to develop panic attacks. I called the counseling center several times, asking for support. After the initial therapy sessions, I realized that I was from a dysfunctional family, and there actually were real issues for me to work on. It was a matter of building trust and establishing rapport with someone. I tried to disclose sensitive information about myself. I wanted to be understood.

But I was not understood. I was betrayed. There was no confidentiality. The commander of the base found out I had gone to the counseling center, and a psychiatric evaluation was ordered. My going to counseling became the issue rather than the trauma I had experienced from my gang rape. I was very much put on the defense.

It was a month or so after I had first gone to the counseling center when the military police picked me up for the second psychiatric evaluation. At this point I had been adjusting nicely at work. I was flown to Travis Air Force Base, tied to a stretcher, even though I had not been violent, threatening, or suicidal. I did not deserve to be treated in such a cold, impersonal manner like I was some criminal!

I was interrogated by a bunch of men who kept asking me about having sex with my father, even though I had never said that my father sexually molested me! I tried to explain this to the psychiatrists, but nobody was really listening to me. Nobody bothered to ask me about the issues – trauma from being raped – that brought me to counseling in the first place! Nobody was building trust with me. I felt betrayed and violated.

When I returned from the evaluation, I was not allowed to go back to being a nurse. I was stuck in the library to type. I do not type well and found this extremely frustrating. When I broke down and cried one day, I was threatened with an Article 15 if I did not stop crying. This makes as much sense as hitting a TV set that does not work. This is not addressing or fixing the problem. To make matters worse, they discovered that they had been paying me as if I had been living off base, which was not true – I had been living in assigned housing on the base. They took my entire paycheck for months. I was destitute, and remember going to a nearby church to get soup cans and going on dinner dates with different men just to get something to eat. I dated around 10 men. Two of the men were rapists. I am learning that survivors of rape are more susceptible to being raped again. I shut down and was unable to stand up for myself.

My DD-214 does not reflect the true reasons why I was discharged from the military. I do not have a character disorder or personality disorder. I have worked 27 years as a psychiatric nurse in Los Angeles since my discharge from the military. I know a personality disorder when I see one. I did not perform in any substandard way while performing my duties in the military. I was, and still am, a very compassionate, caring, and competent nurse.

I suffered a great deal with panic attacks, mood swings, insomnia, flashbacks, nightmares, depressions, and distress for many years due to the trauma from my rape and general violation I experienced in the military.

The worse part is that I could not safely confide in anyone in the military after it happened. I felt betrayed at the counseling center and was put on the defense. I was judged, criticized, and totally misunderstood. As a nurse, I realize how important listening skills are. Taking time to understand the person’s point-of-view can avoid a lot of unnecessary waste of resources and avoid adding more suffering to the person on top of the original trauma that he/she endured.