by Kori Cioca
This weekend was transformative, to say the least. Certainly for me, but even for the hundreds of soldiers in the Ohio Army National Guard Battalion 1-174th, who tossed the sexual assault and prevention training manual out the window and instead chose to play THE INVISIBLE WAR during their mandatory annual training.
I had the best experience speaking with them afterwards -- something I never thought would be a remote possibility. I wanted to share a note that I received from one of the Captains following the training. I can barely believe this is real.
Please read it and share it and know that each action you take to spread the word about this film, and the epidemic of military sexual assault is making a real difference. In Congress, at the Pentagon, for survivors, and even on military bases across the world -- where we need it most. I had my doubts, but it really is true. Together, we are #NotInvisible.
Sent: Monday, May 20, 2013 1:12 PM
Subject: The Invisible War -- Tackling the Tough Topic of Sexual Assault in the Military
This weekend my Battalion in the Ohio Army National Guard had our mandatory annual sexual assault prevention training. This is typically something that is dreaded amongst all soldiers, regardless of age or rank. You sit in a packed, dark room watching a power point presentation with a few video clips or, as DoD has moved to in recent years, a poorly executed and low-budget film that lasts about an hour. Typically these trainings generate little to no conversation (other than the whispered jokes between buddies about the poor acting in the films or what they could be doing instead of sitting in useless training).
Soldiers sit sucking down coffee, Mountain Dew, Monster Energy drinks or 5-Hour Energy shots and do their best to stay awake. Half the room is doing the "Blackberry Prayer" -- sitting with their heads bowed slightly as if in prayer, with thumbs moving furiously over mobile phones nestled half concealed in their laps, texting, emailing or surfing the web in an attempt to stimulate their minds and not nod off. By the end of the training, a quarter of the soldiers are standing up along the edges of the room in a last ditch effort to stay awake -- not because they don't want to miss a second of the enthralling training, but because they don't want to get caught sleeping by their supervisor.
The supervisors half pay attention to the training and instead stalk around the room in the shadows, hoping to catch soldiers with their eyes closed and dole out the appropriate punishment. I have seen, on more than one occasion, a soldier almost fully asleep while standing up propped against the wall. This same scenario plays out on a yearly basis in Guard, Reserve and Active Duty units in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard across the world. This much needed training has been diminished to a "check the block" requirement that almost no one pays attention to and that certainly no one talks about.
It's no secret that sexual assault and sexual harassment cases are on the rise at an alarming rate throughout the Military. Multiple high profile incidents have made their way to the main stream media, causing the pucker factor for top Military and Government brass to skyrocket and draw an onslaught of anger and criticism from citizens across the world. While this trend is considered despicable and an embarrassment to most honorable and upstanding service members -- it's generally still not something talked about in the open. It's discussed in hushed tones behind closed office doors or empty hallways. A few concerns are expressed and some armchair quarterback "solutions" to the problem are tossed around and then then everyone goes on about their normal routine.
What's even worse, in the units where there is an incident of assault or harassment, most of the time the conversation centers around the latest rumor -- who did what, how did it happen, who was right, who was wrong, personal opinions and accusations get tossed around, lines are drawn, sides are taken -- and it all still happens in hushed tones behind closed doors. Rarely is the topic or sexual assault and harassment discussed openly and frankly in a safe and truthful environment.
All of the above has applied to every unit I've ever been in and is even how I personally have acted and viewed the mandatory snooze fest that is sexual assault response and prevention training. Until this weekend.
This weekend my Battalion tossed the Army provided training out the window and instead chose to play the documentary The Invisible War. I had seen the documentary about six weeks prior. I had heard of the documentary and ordered the DVD and watched it at home. It was eye-opening to say the least. The day after watching it, I contacted my Battalion Commander and told him I wanted to play it for my Battery (56 soldiers). I wanted to run it by him first and see if watching the documentary could satisfy our annual requirement for sexual assault training. He had seen the documentary as well, and surprised me by taking it one step further -- let's play it for the entire Battalion (approx. 250 soldiers).
By chance, a soldier in our Battalion happened to know one of the females whose story is told in the documentary and mentioned to her what we were doing and wanted to know if she was interested in attending. Our Battalion Commander extended to her the offer of attending the screening but also to address the soldiers afterwards if she was comfortable doing so. She was. What played out that Sunday morning was the single most amazing experience I have had in my 10+ year military career.
During the duration of the 98-minute film, soldiers eyes were glued to the screen. Mobile phones stayed tucked away in pockets. Whispered jokes and conversations between buddies were nonexistent. Supervisors standing in the back of the room didn't move around the room but instead stood still as statues, watching as the various stories were told on the screen. Occasionally, soldiers could be seen dabbing at the corners of their eyes, wiping away silent tears. At several points throughout the film, audible expressions of shock, anger and disbelief were heard.