Tags: Army, PTSD, women
From Hagel to the Hill in suit and tie, to the Service Chiefs on down in uniform; we have all heard the steady drum beat about a military that, as we look to the left and right of us, we simply do not see; a military full of barely stable combat veterans saddled with Post Traumatic Stress skulking in the shadows and/or sexually assaulting their Shipmates. As a reflection of the society it serves, of course those things are here … but why are they dominating the conversation and why are our leaders expending so much capital on it?
The PTS/PTSD hype & smear issue has a history worthy of a book (wait, that has already been done), and the sexual assault meme has been floating around in force since I was a LTJG … but what about now?
The last few days have seen two officers come forward; 2LT Dan Gomez, USA in TheGuardian and Capt. Lindsay L. Rodman, USMC in the WSJ. They are both pushing back against the drones of doom and smear, standing athwart the rising chorus and saying, “Stop.”
First let’s look at the good common sense from Gomez on PTSD, then we’ll dive in to the real touchy issue; sexual assault.
The revelations of sexual assault and harassment are only the latest in what has been a steady stream of bad news for the military. After a decade of war, we’ve read over and over about PTSD and mental health stigma, suicide, unemployment and extremism within the ranks. Without question, as a military, we have issues that we need to address.
But the things that I read about on a daily basis – all of these problems – while present and important, do not reflect the reality of what I see and experience as a soldier. In other words, this is not my army.
Yes, we’re growing and learning as an organization. We’ve been at war for over a decade, and are adapting to a rapidly changing world. America’s expectations of who we are and who we should be are also changing, and with that, problems are bubbling up to the surface that have been long ignored – and we are addressing them. But this fractured force that I read about full of misfits and miscreants is not my army.
The army I serve in is composed of brave men and women who joined the force during a time of war, fully knowing they will likely be placed in harm’s way. They’ve seen the veterans coming home with missing limbs and those who struggle to transition back to civilian life – and they still choose to sign the line. These are men and women who are unafraid to be patriotic at a time when doing so often seems out of fashion, and even looked down upon. They live the Army Values, and are just as shocked to learn about the scale of the problems we’re facing as a force – and as a nation – as the rest of America. And we want to get better. This is not a group of broken and sorry soldiers, fumbling along and victimized.
The army I serve in shows up every day and works, focusing on daily drills with a watchful eye on global hotspots, listening to the talking heads nonchalantly discuss “boots on the ground”, waiting for the call to be whisked away again to some far off place. Talk of an “Asia Pivot” or a return to a “garrison army” falls on deaf ears to the family saying tearful goodbyes to their loved one at an airfield, or to the soldier heading to Helmand province for a year. This is not to make light of the difficult problems we must face and fix, but it’s important to recognize that we here on the ground see the work being done to fix them.
For some reason, the exception has become the rule; the footnote the lead story. This is not right, and this is not what we see on a day to day basis – at sea and ashore. We see the real Navy and Marine Corps – just as Gomez sees the real Army. The issue for me is this; why aren’t we standing up more for our culture, our Shipmates – and push back against the attentions seekers, sympathy trolls, and those who want to make the hero a victim? We have let this story, again, get upside down. We are forgetting what we let happen to the Vietnam generation. We should not let that happen again.
BZ to Dan Gomez, and now let’s shift fire to someone who everyone owes a solid professional nod to; Capt. Rodman. A Marine JAG who attacks a problem as only a Marine can – clear, direct, fundamentally sound, and fact based.
As with Dan, you need to read it all … but she eviscerates those who are using bad science to attack the military for their own agendas … something we’ve seen before. Something we know better than to let go unchallenged. When all others cower in fear, it does seem that there is always a Marine who is willing to step forward and do the right thing.
Here are the core bits that leave you knowing one thing that we really already knew; the numbers being used to make the American public think the military is full of sexual predators are garbage.
In the days since the Defense Department’s May 7 release of its 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, the media and lawmakers have been abuzz. The report’s estimate that last year 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact prompted many to conclude, incorrectly, that this reliably estimated the number of victims of sexual assault.
The 2012 estimate was also significantly higher than the last estimate, causing some to proclaim a growing “epidemic” of sexual assault in the military. The truth is that the 26,000 figure is such bad math-derived from an unscientific sample set and extrapolated military-wide-that no conclusions can be drawn from it.
The term “sexual assault” was not used in the WGRA survey. Instead, the survey refers to “unwanted sexual contact,” which includes touching the buttocks and attempted touching.
It is disheartening to me, as a female officer in the Marine Corps and a judge advocate devoted to the professional practice of law in the military, to see Defense Department leaders and members of Congress deal with this emotionally charged issue without the benefit of solid, verifiable data. The 26,000 estimate is based on the 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Military. The WGRA survey was fielded throughout all branches of the military in September and November 2012. As the report indicates, “Completed surveys were received from 22,792 eligible respondents,” while “the total sample consisted of 108,478 individuals.” In other words, one in five of the active-duty military personnel to whom the survey was sent responded.
I am one of those who responded to the survey after receiving an email with an online link. None of the males in my office received the email, though nearly every other female did. We have no way of knowing the exact number of male or female respondents to the 2012 WGRA survey because that information wasn’t released.
Though the 2012 survey does not specify the gender composition of its respondents, the 2010 respondents were 42% female (10,029 women and 14,000 men).
Nevertheless, to achieve the 26,000 military-wide estimate in 2012 (and 19,000 in 2010) over half of the victims must have been male. Of course, male victims do exist, but empirically males do not constitute anywhere near the majority of victims of unwanted sexual contact-no less sexual assault. Here is what we do know: The actual number of reported sexual assaults in the military in 2012 was 3,374, up from 3,192 in 2011. These figures include reports by civilians against service members. Of the 3,374 total cases reported last year, only 12%-14% were reported by men. We also don’t know how actual sexual-assault rates in the military compare with civilian society.
Each and every sexual assault is tragic and infuriating. But given the military’s recent emphasis on awareness of the problem and insistence that victims come forward, it’s no surprise that this number has gone up.
Here is a back-story in how our silence is hurting us; we are not recruiting good people because of our decision to let lies stand.
I often talk to young men and women interested in joining the military, and I find that women especially seek me out to gain the perspective of a female officer. In the past year or so, these potential female recruits have grown increasingly wary, asking many follow-up questions about whether women are treated fairly and respectfully. I tell them that serving in the military doesn’t turn a woman into a victim. I am a proud Marine, surrounded by outstanding military personnel from every service who take this problem seriously, male and female alike.
If you want quality men and women to join the military – don’t let them think they are joining an organization hobbled with sexual assault. It isn’t.
If you really want to help those veterans returning to the civilian world – you need to help push back against the twin smears of broken-vessels and sexual-predators. It wasn’t and isn’t our military; don’t let lesser mortals try to make it seem so.
PTS/PTSD and sexual assault are real, but especially with sexual assault, if you want to let people know your are serious about addressing the issue – and not off reacting to agendas – then you have to use serious numbers and research. Research and studies that can survive the follow-on question from statisticians and a Company Grade JAGs, for starters.
May many more follow Gomez and Rodman’s example. Demand that the military at least show you the respect you deserve by treating you as an adult – and not judging you from bad studies.