I was around 20 years old when I decided I wanted to join the military. I was majoring in criminal justice in college and loved it, but I was burnt out on school and knew I had to find a way to support myself. Automatically, I thought of the military. When I told my mom, she voiced her concerns with my thoughts about joining the military. No one in my family had, and being a female, she asked, “what if you get assaulted?” I remember kind of chuckling and saying “Mom, this is 2015, that doesn’t happen anymore.” Man, was I wrong and so very naive.
I wasn’t at my first duty station in Kansas very long before I made friends with a fellow female Airman a rank above me. Coming into a small career field, there were only about 20 of us and very few were E-4’s and below. We immediately became friends and she then introduced me to her friends. I went to parties with her, played drinking games with her friends, and was filled with so much love and pride for my choice to serve. One of her friends and I took an interest in each other. I trusted him because of his friendship with her, and less than 2 months after I met him, he raped me in my sleep while I was on sleeping medication.
The morning after it happened, I jumped in the shower hours before I had to be at work. I swear I stood in my dorm room shower for an hour, water hot as I could get it, and scrubbing myself so hard to try to remove the disgust I felt. When I went to work, I was quiet and honestly, was probably doing a pretty shitty job at working. Before this, I was talkative, eager to learn, and absolutely loved what I was doing. After a few days, my superintendent asked me what had been going on with me lately. Scared, I told her I couldn’t tell her. She asked that I go talk to a chaplain. I did go speak to the chaplain and nearly broke down in his office. I didn’t realize at the time how much this act had affected my life and my work. I cried for hours talking to this chaplain, afraid of the world that awaited me outside of the chapel. He tried to convince me to talk to SAPR, but I was too scared. Finally, I agreed to see him again and I left. The next day at work, I broke down on shift and went back to see this chaplain. I’m not sure how many times I saw him before I agreed to meet with SAPR, but I eventually let him invite them to the chapel to talk to me. I didn’t tell them anything, they just informed me of my options in regards to restricted and unrestricted reporting. However, I’d done my research, and things like this could get my security clearance revoked and I could lose my job, so out of fear, I did nothing. Eventually, the pain became too much to bear and I agreed to speak to SAPR with this chaplain in tow. I filed a restricted report and went back to work.
Unfortunately, reporting did little for me. I saw someone at a rape crisis center downtown, but was still too scared to fully confront the problem. I had to see my assailant sometimes because our jobs worked together, and see this mutual friend and couldn’t speak to her. I was back to having no friends. I also couldn’t tell my command because that would make my report unrestricted and an investigation would be opened.
I drank alcohol to self-medicate, to sleep, and to forget. Unfortunately, I drank so much one night that I put myself into an alcohol-induced coma. I was found by a concerned coworker and security forces and the fire department on base came to my dorm. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, where they tried sternum rubs and chest compressions to try to wake me up, but nothing worked. I woke up later in the hospital. They had pumped my stomach, and I was extremely ill. Because of this “alcohol-related incident” my supervisor was informed that it was mandatory that I go to mental health. I was put into ADAPT, the air force’s substance abuse program, and told them why I drank so much. I was eventually given a therapist and psychiatrist, but that did little to help. I felt as if they weren’t trying to help me, just trying to accuse me of being crazy. They diagnosed me with a personality disorder (without any evidence) and PTSD and I was sent to an outpatient program. My drinking didn’t stop there though, and yet again, I drank too much one night. I had moved out of the dorms at this point and mental health had created a safety plan where I had to check-in with my first sergeant twice a day at 8 am and 8 pm. This particular night, I missed my nightly check-in and wasn’t answering the phone. My first sergeant showed up at my off base apartment and banged on the door until I was able to crawl out of bed and literally crawl to the front door. I was so drunk, I could barely speak and she called my superintendent. They told me to pack a bag and I was taken to my superintendent’s for the night. I was taken back to the mental health clinic on base the next day and they said that outpatient wasn’t enough care for me. I was forced, against my will, to go to an inpatient hospital in Texas. I was leaving the next day. I stayed the night at my superintendent’s house again that night, they watched me pack my bags, and my superintendent flew with me to Texas.
You’d think this is almost the end of my story, but it’s only the middle. While I was there, I spoke to an SVC at a local base and signed with her for representation. I found the strength and courage to file an unrestricted report and filed for an expedited transfer out of Kansas. When I left inpatient, I had a week to pack and leave for my next base in Colorado. But before I left Kansas, I had to speak to OSI. An investigation was opened, but they couldn’t speak to me until I got back to base. When I was back, I was interrogated for 4-5 hours about everything and accused of being crazy. They knew about me being inpatient because they knew I wasn’t in the state when I filed and had been told where I was. This was used against me for the rest of my report and case, even though it was all due to the assault. I soon left for Colorado and continued from there. The mental health team that I highly distrusted put me up for a medical evaluation to discharge.
When I got to Colorado, my command knew all about me and I was a burden to them from the start. I was a surprise to my job, and everyone knew something happened because of how fast they’d gotten word I was coming and how soon I was thereafter. In Kansas, my command was very caring and my mental health team was horrible, but in Colorado, it was the opposite. My command treated me horribly, and it wasn’t long before I was taken out of my job and had my clearance revoked. My new commander put me in the same office as her where I shredded papers 8 hours a day so she could watch over me. ADAPT had also followed me to this base and my command took it really seriously. They went as far as to search and seize my house without probable cause (and were investigated by IG without any consequence, even with witnesses) and violated HIPPA by telling people in the office, and not in my command, that I was in ADAPT and seeking mental health treatment. Sometime during this time, I tried to kill myself for the first time. I was on 10mg of Ambien and swallowed the whole bottle. When I didn’t show up to work, someone came looking for me and I was again taken to the hospital. I had a 3 week inpatient stay after that.
The first time I went back to Kansas was for the Article 32 hearing. I was so panicked that they prescribed benzodiazepines to calm me down for the trial (which the military literally refuses to do, especially for “alcoholics”) but they didn’t help. The morning of the hearing, I was supposed to be there at 8. I was sharing a suite with someone from Colorado who was sent with me to watch over me. I got in the shower that morning and had the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. I couldn’t breathe, I literally thought I was seconds away from dying, and my vision went black (yes, I was conscious but blind for a while). The person there with me had to physically drag me out of the shower and lead me back to my room because I was screaming that I couldn’t see and freaking out in the shower. After 30-45 minutes of blindness and hyperventilating, I calmed down and we went to the hearing.
As I walked through the doors, I saw my old friend, the girl who was mutual friends with the man who raped me. We avoided each other. She spoke against me and took his side even though before I left the base (as she was learning about sexual assault and the signs in ALS) she had asked if I was assaulted because I displayed all the signs. She knew it happened, but took his side anyways. She called me “crazy” as a character witness. My assailant had a defense against me, but my side did little against him. I felt like I was the one on trial even though he failed a polygraph and admitted to having sex with me while I was asleep, saying I was “laying there like a dead fish” (his exact words).
After the hearing, I went back to Colorado and waiting for an answer. I made the mistake of telling my therapist at the time (whom I still thank for keeping me alive, but was so angry at the time) that if this trial didn’t proceed, I was going to kill myself. My command had informed my SVC she wanted to know the news before me, so that she could be there for me when I was told. To my dismay, they declined to continue and again, I lost it and cried my eyes out in the office at work. I was then taken to mental health, and though I told them I was not suicidal, I was again sent inpatient for what I’d said before.
I could go on and on about the details of this story and still feel like I won’t recall every detail. I was medically discharged for PTSD in 2018 and a year later I’m at 90% disability. I’d love to say my life improved after I was forced out, but it didn’t. The only thing I was proud of, my service, was taken from me. I loved being in the military and being part of something and I was left with nothing but trauma. The man who did this stayed in to continue his career. I moved from Colorado and tried to start over again. But I’m still dealing with the consequences of someone else’s actions and on top of that, the trauma of the trial. I did a personal appearance in Kansas right before I got out as my last ditch effort, and was told by the base commander that “My story deserved to be heard,” but then again was dismissed as if I was nothing.
I now see a therapist twice a week. In a little over a week, it’ll be 3 years since I met the man that messed up my life and my career. In 2 months, it’ll be 3 years since my rape happened. Things always get worse around this time of year. I went through all of this relatively alone; I had no family there to support me and no real friends either. I’m unemployed, but going to school, and fear leaving the house most days because I’m afraid of everyone and everything. I sleep with a loaded gun beside my bed, check windows and doors obsessively at night, and take several medications. I’m not crazy, I’m just extremely hurt and traumatized. Hurt by the rape and rapist, hurt by the legal system, hurt by my command, hurt by my friend, hurt by my family, hurt by mental health, hurt by the Air Force, and hurt by every little person that wrote me off along the way. I still have nightmares, flashbacks, unwanted memories, and I still have things come back to me that I’d forgotten about that make me remember and relive when I don’t want to. There are reminders all around me and I can’t escape it. I live every day not knowing whether I want to be a part of this evil world, but I keep fighting and trying to find my place. I still love the military and the time I got to serve, even though it was nothing but awful for me.
This isn’t the whole story by a long stretch. There are many people, places, events, awards, etc. that I left out. This story is just about that event that altered my career and my path. I am not crazy. I’m not dramatic. Something awful happened to me and I may never get over that. I will never forget. I will always feel such huge loss. I am angry and want only to share my story so that others know the perils that happen to women in the military. I was good at my job, I won awards, I got coined, and I tried to be the example of service before self, honesty, and integrity. I still try to live a resilient life. But I am forever changed by my experiences from my time serving. After I finish my degree, I hope to help those who have gone through or are going through similar situations. For now, I just hope to share what I can and have open lines of communication about these problems. Maybe by doing this, I can help someone else along the way.