William’s Story

William’s Story

Recently, I sought treatment for the rapes I endured while serving in the United States Air Force at the age of 17. For over 40 years, I lived in a “black box”, where life, as most people enjoy it, was not possible. Those around me, significant others, friends, family, and colleagues did not understand my character as they could see the mask of shame and guilt, resulting in acting out most of my life. I was certain deep within that I was different, but never knew it was PTSD that resulted from severe military sexual trauma at the age of 17.

I joined the USAF at the age of 17 to get away from a dysfunctional home, so that I could be proud and serve my country at the end of the Vietnam era. I gave a lot of thought to this life-changing decision. I spoke with school counselors, parents, and family. I felt so proud the day I was sworn in at the AAFE’s building in Oakland, California. The next day, I was off to Lackland Air Force Base.

While in basic training, there were reports of female recruits being raped behind dumpsters. Hearing this was horrible as us recruits talked about it in disbelief. After graduating from basic training, I began Tech School at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. I was invited and granted permission to leave base and go drinking at bars outside of the west gate of the base. Soon, the sexual assaults began. While intoxicated, I was sexually assaulted numerous times by higher ranked service members. Tech School at Keelser Air Force became my hell. The horrors of my memories thereafter were embedded in my sub-consciousness like a ‘black box” on commercial airlines. Guilt, shame, and fear became my life.

Numerous times, I saw my assailants in uniform on base. The embarrassment and fear of what they were saying among themselves haunted me. Finally, I could not handle the horror of this and went AWOL for nearly a month, hiding from my assailants. I became a runner, running from my guilt and shame, but I did not stop running until recently when I faced what had happened to me and what had transpired to make my life so dysfunctional.

While AWOL, I called my parents who were very upset as the USAF had contacted them, wanting to know my whereabouts. My parents were mad and disappointed, not knowing the details of why I went AWOL. I chose to turn myself in on base and was arrested by the MPs in the chow hall. I painfully attempted to report my rapes while in the brig. However, absolutely nothing was done or investigated. Instead, I had one short hearing and was immediately discharged, undesirably, and escorted off base. I will never forget being stripped of my uniform and rank as Airman First Class. My life and career were taken away from me. I was angry and confused.

I began to believe I was a bad person because I was never able to fulfill my dream, a career in the United States Air Force. I will never forget that awful flight back home and the shame I felt when my sister picked me up at the airport.

I cry every time I hear our National Anthem, and a feeling of enormous shame overcomes me each time because my country betrayed me, yet I so want to respect the flag and nation that I love. Every Veteran’s Day for 40 years, I cry because my military career was taken away by higher ranks that covered this up.

Although I am getting counseling, the help I need is insufficient with the already overbooked and broken VA clinics and system. My wounds are deep, and it is difficult to break the silence, as I fear rejection when I attempt to move forward. I lived a very lonely life inside. Daily, I still face my MST/PTSD, and some days, it is difficult to get through.

As a young man wanting to serve his country, I faced these terrible atrocities, just like hundreds and thousands of other veterans and enlisted personnel currently in the military. I often wonder how many veterans are out there who are still forced to live in the “black box” of hell, as I was. It is time for America, our government, and our military to own up to these atrocities and quit ignoring the tragedy of military sexual trauma. We deserved better.

Life in the “black box” came to an end in October 2013. I felt human. Fortunately, the day I attempted to commit suicide, there was a non-profit agency that cared. It was Protect our Defenders who pointed me in the right direction. I was referred to MST personnel at Fort Harrison. Just recently, for the very first time, an MST staff told me that I “deserved better”. No one had ever said this to me before. These people are heroes, as they saved my life. The “black box” that was my prison is now disappearing slowly with help.

Perhaps this will wake up Congress and our lawmakers that thousands of lives have been ruined by military sexual assaults for decades. Those in charge need to face justice.