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Take a stand for your Wingman

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, BILOXI, MISS. -- The Department of Defense released its Fiscal 2008 Report on Sexual Assault in the Military last week, noting that the number of reports had increased by 8 percent over 2007. An 8 percent increase ... is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. In fact, those most familiar with the department's campaign to combat sexual assaults do not necessarily think that higher number is negative. For example, Gail McGinn, deputy undersecretary of defense for plans, described the situation as indicating "service members feel more comfortable reporting the crime and are getting the care they need." Indications here at Keesler seem to corroborate that view. 

Nonetheless, while I am proud that our Air Force provides exceptional support to those who have been assaulted, I am saddened and disappointed that we have any incidents of sexual assaults in our society. Please note that I used the term, "our society." That was deliberate as many of these reported assaults occurred before the Airman even entered the Air Force. Unfortunately, some of our fellow Airmen come to us as casualties of sexual assaults that occurred before they joined our team. Tragically, some become victims after they join us. It is incumbent on all of us to join together as wingmen to protect each other, to defend each other, and to eradicate sexual assaults. 

Sexual assault is a crime. When the Department of Defense launched its campaign to combat sexual assaults, they found that some victims felt intimidated by the legal process and wanted to remain anonymous. Accordingly, the department created a program that empowered victims to report their incidents to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, who could coordinate necessary treatment in a confidential setting. These "restricted" reports protect the victim's identity while enabling them to benefit from our comprehensive counseling and treatment services. How effective is the anonymity of these "restricted" reports? Not even I get to know the identities of the victims or suspects; the reporting victim's rights are respected. The victim also has the option to report the crime through the chain of command for investigation. These "unrestricted" reports enable commanders to investigate allegations of crime and, when warranted, act using the Uniform Code of Military Justice. According to the Department of Defense report, of the Air Force's initial 262 restricted reports last year, 42 were later changed to unrestricted status. 

I personally review each of the investigations and have noted some troubling themes in the reported assaults. First, there is a strong correlation between alcohol use and sexual assaults. As Chief Alex Perry, the wing's command chief, tells every new arrival from basic military training, "You don't get any better looking, stronger, or a better dancer when you've been drinking." Alcohol is guaranteed to make you stupid. If you are old enough to drink, do so responsibly. If not, don't break the law. Be a good wingman and make sure your buddy is taken care of and is not a threat to themselves or others.

Equally troubling is a second observation. The reports often indicate a bystander sees the trouble starting yet fails to intervene. I don't care what rank you are...if you see trouble happening you have a responsibility as an Airman ... as a citizen ... to stop it! Where prudent, confront the individual and steer them in the right direction. If you need help, call in your wingman. Consult with your military training leader. Call the 81st Security Forces Squadron at 377-3040. There are so many resources, but the key is to do something when you see the warning signs. All of us have a responsibility to protect and defend our fellow Airmen. 

As Airmen, our core values dictate we will not accept unacceptable behavior that compromises our integrity, service, and excellence. Sexual assaults, alcohol abuse and turning a blind eye toward misconduct all are unacceptable. Let's continue to be a band of brothers and sisters who take care of each other and make our Air Force family proud.