"Campaign to Zero" starts at Keesler

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
The Triangle is a unique environment where young men and women learn their Air Force jobs and what it means to be an Airman in a short amount of time. A large portion of teaching good Airmanship is the proper handling of sexual assault and alcohol abuse.

The 81st Training Group kicked off its new "Campaign to Zero" on Sept. 26 with an event at the Vandenberg Community Center that provided students with resources and demonstrations focused on positive bystander intervention and awareness.

"The Airmen in technical training are briefed on these issues constantly," said Lt. Col. McLemore, 81st TRG deputy commander. "The event is about seeing if they actually do what we've asked them to do. This is an important exercise for leadership to figure out what is working and what isn't."

The campaign integrated itself with the night's events. Tables were set up in the common area by volunteers from Airmen against drunk driving, alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment, and the sexual assault prevention and response office, but the centerpiece of the night was a series of scenarios performed by volunteers for student Airmen to witness.

McLemore described the event as, "an unprecedented 'live-fire' experiment of one's willingness to utilize intervention skills when faced with potentially dangerous or questionable social situations."

Small teams of permanent party volunteers acted out realistic scenarios during the event to allow Airmen the chance to intervene, although no students were actually included in the scenarios or interacted with outside of their own initiative.

"We aren't trying to entrap anyone or trick anyone into breaking the rules," said Senior Master Sgt. Heather Moody, Mathies NCO Academy director of education. "We want to witness their actions or reactions to an inappropriate situation. It's about giving them the chance to step up during a demonstration that seems real."

Volunteers met before the dance to set up a headquarters and get comfortable with their roles, but because nothing like this has ever been attempted, nobody could fully predict what would happen.

The volunteers had to adapt to each scenario as they entered the student areas of the Vandenberg. In early stages, the volunteers got very little response. But, technical training Airmen were quick to step in once they were sure what was going on.

"There's definitely a pattern, when it's just starting off and vague people are just watching to figure out what is happening," said Senior Airman Chimer Clark, event volunteer. "But once it gets physical they step in. It's like they don't want to seem foolish by getting involved in something they don't know anything about."

That line is hard for anyone to judge when it comes to intervening in other people's business. In every scenario, the observers noticed Airmen watching, sometimes for an extended period, before taking action.

"They might have thought we were together," said Airman Katelyn Garcia of a scenario where another volunteer continuously approached her. "But when I said, 'I don't know you,' the Airmen stepped in immediately."

When Airmen did intervene, they did so calmly, said Airman 1st Class Joseph Jackson who led the role-playing volunteers.

"Nobody got riled up or mean about it," he added. "They handled themselves just like they're supposed to, simply by inserting themselves into the situation."

Each time an Airman did interfere with the demonstration, usually telling off a persistent male aggressor, an observing volunteer would send them to the front tables to explain what they had witnessed and why they stepped in as a positive bystander.

Along with the sexual assault scenarios, which are perhaps more obvious, there were also alcohol abuse scenarios played out by volunteers. These incited less intervention from the students as the transgressions were more difficult to recognize.

"It's not so much that they don't care about the alcohol," said Clark. "But, for the sexual assault related scenarios they can easily step in without getting people in trouble. If they call someone out on underage drinking they'll be starting a big deal for everyone."

Security forces defenders were also present to administer voluntary field sobriety tests so that the students could really begin to understand their own tolerance to alcohol.

"For an Airman to understand the effects of alcohol on his or her body is important," said McLemore. "We aren't going to stop them from drinking, but we can still educate them on how it contributes to poor decision-making and how it plays a factor in many of the sexual assaults that take place"

The results of the evening will be brought to the Airmen later in a ceremony that recognizes those that took initiative in potentially dangerous situations.

Overall the exercise results were valuable and surprising, said Moody.

"Our goal is to help keep Airmen safe," she said. "The volunteers were vital in getting the first-hand reactions from the students. This kickoff serves as the starting point of an enduring push for responsible choices. "

The "Campaign to Zero" is an on-going, Wing-led drive to aim for zero sexual assaults in the Air Force and is lead by a SAPR working group comprised of advocates dedicated to stopping sexual assault and alcohol related incidents.