Change military policy to protect troops
Change military policy to protect troops
Our troops are often placed in harms way. We need to ensure that they are getting the proper protection from bullying, harassment and physical harm during training or inside the work place.
Dear Senators and Representatives, I hope this email finds you well. At the moment I have some information to share with you about a recent incident that I experienced in Army Combat training. Due to the climate that our country finds itself in, I feel that this information is both pertinent and key to our troops safety. I have quiet a lengthy email for you to read. To keep my information in detestable sections I have broken this email into five categories.
First I would like to introduce myself.
Second I will posit to you that there is abuse in Army combat training.
Third I will explain what I mean by abuse and give examples of that abuse.
Fourth, my story of Army combat training.
Fifth, I will offer suggestions and solutions
So, let me introduce myself. My name is Kate (Walles) Usera. I am a veteran of the United States Air National Guard of Oklahoma. I was in service with the Air Guard a total of 9 years. I am also a military spouse to a veteran and I was a military spouse to my ex-husband who is currently in the Air Force. I have spent 15 years of my adult life in and around the military.
Recently I joined the Army National Guard and was in basic combat training begging May 6th 2019. I was released from basic training for "Failure to adapt". I left Fort Jackson on the 12th of June. If you have access to my files it will say that I have anxiety and that I am no longer fit to serve in the military. What it doesn't say is that I was sexually assaulted by a fellow trainee.
To help you gain understanding of what I mean by abuse in Army basic combat training, I would like to tell you a story of on of my fellow trainees as well as explain in better detail what happened to me. My fellow trainees story is a clear way to describe to you the climate in which training often happens. My friend Bailey is a burn victim from he group know as the "Blister girls". They were still in reception when this incident occurred. Reception is the first week of basic trining where we are filling out medical paperwork, getting immunizations, ID cards issued, military clothing issued, and completing paperwork for our financial situations etc. Reception counts as week zero in the 10 week period of Combat military training. Bailey was in a group outside the chow hall when their drill sergeant decided to do corrective training. The day was a blistering category five heat level. Around 100 or more degrees. The group was instructed to do push ups on the concrete. The concrete was so hot that it sizzled when the trainees used water from their camel backs to try to cool it down. These girls sustained 3rd degree burns on their hands and 2nd burns on their knees. The drill sergeant laughed as the trainees screeched in pain. Despite the harm this drill sergeant cause these trainees, he is still being allowed to train new companies. This is unacceptable from a public relations point of view alone. Can you imagine if the press got involved! This would be a political nightmare. This man is in need of medical help. These girls should be going to therapy for the trauma. Why would this man be allowed in any training position ever again? The medical staff at the clinic were enraged when they heard what happened and though they tried to report this drill sergeant, nothing resulted from the paperwork these professionals wrote up. It is illegal under the UCMJ torture our enemies. Why in hell would we accept torture of our own? Why are the brave young souls this situation being mistreated by those in authority in the Army and incurring third degree burns in week zero? These trainees will graduate training and possibly have to work with this drill sergeant someday. How is this drill sergeant still in the Army? This gross miss-judgment does not align with the "Army values" that we were taught in any way! Each of these you trainees was pressured into not quitting despite the fact that the sustained bodily harm. This is absolute normal in basic combat training. I spoke with quite a number of people who were being discharged because I was curious if other received the same type of pressure to stay as I did. The only people whom I talked to that were discharged without question or coercion were those who had asthma.
To further explain the abuse I witnessed in Army Basic Combat trainman I have a list of thing that were said to trainees that were already injured, on profile and had paperwork started to send them home.
"You're a disappointment to the Army"
"You're a failure"
"You're a quitter"
"You're an embarrassment"
"You're too sensitive for the Army. What a baby"
"Some people just can't hack the Army"
"You'll never make it in the real world"
"You can't do anything right"
"Go home so you can whine to your momma"
These were all said to individuals who were bodily injured in Basic Combat training. People who will go back to civilian life and probably hate the military for these comments that treat them like less of a person. What does this accomplish? I attend basic training with the Air Force 17 years ago. I accept yelling. I accept corrective training. And then there are things that are over the line. There were multiple instances in which this was true in Army basic training. During PT (physical training) on two occasions drill sergeants used sexual language to make a point. "Get your abs ready for mating season and "Your body is an amazing organism. It is capable of far more than we give it credit. You should be able to stay up all night till two in the morning hammering back shots at a strip club and come in the next day and kill your PT test." Individuals in a leadership role should not be conducing themselves in ways that they are teaching the trainees not to behave. Telling a new trainee that "We have to train you. We have to change you from a pice of shit civillian into an honorable solder" Were is the honor in bullying? Why is the assumption that all civilians are "shit"? As Airmen we were taught to defend all that we love, to include our civilian loved ones. I have no problem with the policies and procedures laid out at Army basic combat training. I do have a problem with leadership that is willing to cross the line and go outside what is allowable according the the code set forth in regulations regarding these leaders.
There is so much pressure on a soldier in basic combat training to "not quit". There are phrases like the ones already mention used on those who have lost their health due to Basic Combat Training. some of these soldiers have had crimes committed against them. I have never in my life met a 19 year old with a broken hip before now. I would estimate that at least 10% of every company has new recruits with broken bones during the process of Basic Combat training. It is shocking that these individuals are being treated as quitters. They are being chaptered out of the military. These children are heroes. they signed a blank check to our beautiful nation and in doing so suffered bodily harm. Harm that they could easily never fully recover from. Stress fractures are so common, but worse, some have broken necks or backs and some have sustained concussions just to name a few. The Army is currently conducting bone density research during basic military training. I am certain that the results of that study will be educational.
In an era where society has come to value personal safety , it is alarming to me that the Army still struggles with allowing those who are hurt to have voice. I never felt unheard in Air Force basic training 17 years ago, but, I struggled to find someone who would hear me out in Army basic combat training. I spoke to my drill sergeant who took me to my first sergeant who called in the SARC (Sexual Assault Response Coordinators) liaison who called in the SARC representative who sent me to another SARC who scheduled me with a SARC counselor who suggested that I talk to the Chaplain who said his hands were tied and asked if I had made a SARP complaint, I spoke to a SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) investigator and a SHARP lawyer and eventually in a long list of available resources found a therapist at the clinic who allowed me to voice my concern and was the only one who gave me the option to do as I had initially requested 4 weeks prior. To get out of the situation where I felt unsafe. I am an adult and I didn't stop searching for my answers and I have yet to quit. Most of these trainees are young adults. They are terrified to report bullying from the drill sergeants or the chain of command. The phone number for the IG is on speed dial in the bays where we sleep, change and perform different duties. I know of way too many times when people who were too scared chose not to use that number. Unfortunately, there were times as well, when all the regular numbers to the IG, Sharp and the Chaplain were unavailable, so, they were all forwarded to one very disgruntled chaplain who was overworked and under sympathetic. These safeguarding agencies were not actually available to help. Freedom is something that we in America treasure. We fight for it and claim it in our most grandiose speeches. Should not those who fight for our freedom have peace of mind to know that they are also afforded freedom from abuse in training or at work? This form of bullying really points to the more flagrant problem we have across the entire military. The problem being our lack of concern for mental health. When someone breaks a bone we don't automatically tell them that they will be discharged from active military service. No, they are sent to rehab, given medication, given time to heal and then they are allowed to return to duty. If they can no longer perform their duties they are often assigned to a different job while they heal. They are given leave with pay. In the "real world" military, if someone admits that they could possibly have PTSD or any other type of mental concern the military as a whole has a panic attack. The person in treated like the plague. They are automatically on the way to a discharge and often not counseled on how to find a path to healing. How can we as United States Citizens accept this as an answer? Military service cost them their health and they are not being properly compensated for it nor are they finding healing. These servicemen deserve to have a job just like anyone else who has been harmed in the line of duty. If they can not continue on in their job because of mental incapability due to service they should be given 100% disability because it was an injury sustained in direct correlation to their military service. Politics dictate that our service men and women fight for freedom not just in this country but for freedom in countries all over the world. The sacrifices of our service men and women should not go without due payment. It is also very unsafe for service men and women who suffer from PTSD not to get proper treatment. We are talking about highly skilled warriors with a disorder that they can-not control. Our public needs them to get help just as much as the military member needs help. It is not comforting to our nation when our servicemen commit suicide or shoot up a mall. It is in the best interest of everyone to help our servicemen attain good mental health after they have been in harms way.
My sexual assault story begins on May 13th. This was the first "official day" of my basic combat training. Were are sent in busses from 120th (Reception) to our basic training platoon. As we get of the bus we are greeted with innumerable amounts of screaming drill sergeants. This event is fondly known of as the "Shark Attack". On our backs we carry a duffel full of our gear that we were issued the week before, and in our arms we carry the rest of our gear in a laundry bag. We run up a hill and around a corner where we are told to dump our duffel bags in the grass. We are further instructed to run to our platoon lines where we line up our laundry bags "dress right dress" on the ground near our feet. The desired outcome is that our bags will all be in a perfect grid on the floor like soldiers lined up in a marching formation. We are "welcomed" by more screaming and yelling instruction. Each Barak building is assigned a number (in my case 3-39) and each Barack building (battalion) has five pads. Each pad has an alphabetical assignment (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta and Echo) and each pad has four platoons. At some point we are on our face in the "front leaning rest position" to execute push ups for corrective training. After this barrage of yelling we were told to go retrieve our duffel bags. We were to bring them to the platoon lines and set them up "Dress right dress" with our laundry bags. The floor is littered with laundry bags that are in a maze of teenage confusion on the floor. There is nothing militant or orderly or "dress right dress" about the bags. As I am waiting to move forward behind another trainee I am shoved very violently from behind. As my body is already in motion hopping through the laundry bags this shove propels me froward and directly towards the concrete. In God's mercy, an army quickly reaches around my waist and keeps me from bodily harm. I hear a deep voice yell "No pushing!" All four platoons of Echo 3-39 have their duffles in a pile of over 300 other bags. We logically did not retrieve all of our bags in the chaos of that pile in the time we were given. We again underwent corrective training and were told to go again to retrieve our duffle. This time as I turned to run again to the pile of green bags I hear a resounding "Slap" and then begin to feel the sting of a slap on my buttocks. I am already in a place of heightened emotions due to the environment and adding to the frustration is that this individual has already shoved me. I instantly feel the heat of anger rise into my face. The voice of the Sharp briefer from the week before echoes in my mind "Females, if you punch someone for assaulting you, you will more than likely get paperwork. This is considered excessive force. You could get paperwork anywhere from an article 15 to a dishonorable discharge from the US military". Knowing how angry I am I choose to focus on the task rather than confronting my offender. We run to get the duffles again. Someone yells out "Don't look for your own bag just look for the one that is the right color". Each bag is tagged with duct tape around the handles to match the platoon where we will be assigned. I grab the first bag I see that has blue duct tape and run back to my platoon line. I start yelling "Lynen" The name which I read from the name tape in the window of the duffle bag. I find the trainee to whom the bag belongs and then I begin to search for my own. Trainee Lynen finds my bag and we line back up on the platoon lines. Sometime after this we are yelled at
again and receive corrective training. We also are taught to label our camel
backs. We are in a line to get tape when I was shoved yet again. At this
point I reach my full level of ability to keep my mouth shut so I yell "Quit shoving
me! Holy Fuck!" During the events of that day I was shoved at least twice,
assaulted on my posterior and pulled back by my camel back at least once.
According to the sexual assault briefing that I underwent I am allowed no
recourse. My only option is to make a claim with the Sharp investigators about
the crime that was committed against me.
Due to the fact that the drill sergeants that were in charge of me were male I
waited until I found a female sergeant to talk to. It was not till until latter that
evening when I was able to find and talk to the female drill sergeant who was in
the bay with us. She agreed that it was unacceptable and took me straight to the
first sergeant on duty that night. As I recounted these events to those who were
in my chain of command and to those who would begin the process of reporting
my assault it was often treated as mundane. Truthfully, in the light of how many
people suffered as I did it is not surprising.
After telling my first sergeant about these events his first response was "I am not in the business of helping people get out (of the Army)". As my first sergeant was discussing my options the next day he said that "There are aggressive people every where." and I couldn't assume that I knew what the other trainee’s intentions were. It was equally possible that he was in sports and his slapping me on the buttocks, while not appropriate, could have been in a "good game" sort of sentiment.
Is the Army really that far in the dark ages? At some point during this conversation I was told by the first sergeant that there is "no chaptering code for assault or sexual abuse" A chaptering code is the code on a persons DD214 which allows those who look at the DD214 to find out how the individual was released from the military. These codes typically fall into different categories such as medical, dishonorable, and honorable. In my case my first Sergeant wanted to make sure that I understood my options and that I had realistic expectations of the circumstances going forward. I requested and had meetings with the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator office, the victim advocate, the SHARP counselor, the lawyer for SHARP a SHARP investigator, the chaplain, two SARC advocates, and finally a therapist. Had I not exhausted every single avenue given to me, I never would have found an advocate for my situation. Finding someone to hear you out when you are a victim of a crime should not be that difficult. All the people that I saw were as kind and helpful as their authority would allow. The problem is that the Army has no policy to allow an individual to be released due to abuse. In a real world situation any member of the Armed forces is allowed to change duty stations in order to get away from the individual who has harmed them. In my situation, I was simply transferred from Echo 3-39 to Delta 3-39. Our pads were joined in the center with a hall-way to the classroom that we all shared. In a real world situation there are codes for release from duty that differ from a code releasing you from basic military training. Two such codes that fall under "hardship" are pregnancy and a spouse receiving orders to a new duty station. I was both pregnant and moving to Italy due to my spouse's orders when I was in the Air Guard. To be complete frank these two hardships simultaneously occurring were significantly less difficult to overcome than the hardship of being assaulted in an environment where I was not allowed to exercise self defense, feel protected or be advocated for properly.
Because I am a prior service military member it confounded many people that I "Quit basic training because of some kid". I was questioned frequently "Why are you doing this?" It was as if being assaulted wasn't a good enough excuse to walk away. I am the kind of person that draws very distinct lines between right an wrong. I see what happened to me and the way that the Army's policies dictate how victims of assault are treated. I knew to my core that this needed to be changed. We as citizens of this great country scorn Isis and the Taliban for rape yet when assault happens in our own training facilities we do not accept the victims need to get out of the harmful environment in order to heal. I respectfully disagree with this though process.
I have a few ideas of solutions to fix the problem that I am bringing to your attention. Being that military combat training is done at a high intensity especially the first three weeks of training, I believe that it would be in the best interest of all involved for the males to do certain things as a group and females do certain things as a group. For instance the shark attack in my story is done in mixed company. Given the high amount of stress, pressure and newness this event brings it seems like it would be best done in what is known as "bay formation" meaning that trainees are lined up according to the bay that you sleep in. This would eliminate the males and females being in contact with each other during this event. The males and females trainees are only separated by a stairwell at night except when there are overnight training exercises. During over night training exercises the trainees are all in the same woods camping together. Due to this training environment it might be wise to have all females on birth control. This would also be good during deployments. Since most of our freedoms are not afforded to us anyway (choices in our medical care come to mind), this seems like a small price in exchange for preventing the astonishing amount of unwanted pregnancy in the military. The current solution to unwanted pregnancy is abortion and I believe that is a very expensive procedure as wall as a heart breaking choice to have to make.
I need your help! I am strongly requesting that a regulation be made that anyone who has experienced abuse can make their own choice weather or not they wish to remain in the military. In previous years, before my time in the Army, the commander was the person who would choose if an individual stayed in the military or not. Anyone who was sexually assaulted was forced to leave. Now individuals are not given the option to be removed except that they submit to a record that states that they are not in sound enough mind to complete military duties. This places a permanent mar an the individuals record. Someone else has abused this individual and yet the victim is the one who has the burden of a record stating that they were unable to adapt to military life. The victim is not in the wrong for coming forward to tell the truth. In my case I was left in harms way with no way of defending myself. I certainly did not want to get a dishonorable discharge after serving my country for 9 years and already obtaining an honorable discharge. In the end nothing happened to the individual who assaulted me. I received a phone call last week stating that they could not definitively prove that this individual did anything since there were not witnesses to come forward to state that he assaulted me. Since there is a system in place to find a perpetrator, and this system can not always work in the favor of justice, we need to execute our due diligence to protect the victim in any way that we can.
Thank you for your time. With much respect and appreciation -Kate Usera