By Tech. Sgt. Bryan Franks
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Command Information
WASHINGTON (AFNS) — Senior leaders kicked off the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response #notjustApril campaign March 17 during an event at the Pentagon.
The secretary, chief of staff and chief master sgt. of the Air Force joined other Airmen to read testimonies from sexual assault survivors and discussed Airmen’s roles in supporting sexual assault survivors and preventing this crime.
The event promoting the #notjustApril campaign came in front of the Defense Department’s official recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April to highlight the importance of Airmen’s engagement all year.
Using the Air Force core values as the foundation for her comments, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said integrity is imperative in this issue and the Air Force needs to look in the mirror and accept the fact that there is a problem.
“I think it’s getting better,” James said. “However, we need to look at ourselves and our shortcomings and identify ways we can continue to improve.”
James went on to say that Airmen’s ‘service before self’ is not only answering the nation’s call to serve, but also the call to serve each other.
“Survivors of sexual assault deserve the support of the institutional Air Force, but they also deserve the support of their peers and their wingmen,” James said. “Wingmen play a vital role in building and restoring units’ climate and in supporting victims in their recovery.”
James challenged leaders from commanders to frontline supervisors to demonstrate excellence by setting a professional atmosphere, enforcing the standards of conduct, and being prepared to walk the walk.
Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III spoke about members of one Air Force — active duty, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve, officer, enlisted and civilian Airmen — who stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder to provide whatever is needed to prevent sexual assault.
“We have lots of numbers in the business, as we track different things,” Welsh said. “I would offer to you that the only number that really matters is one. One victim, one criminal, one event, one life shattered, one family shattered, one unit forever affected … now multiply that one person by all the lives that they touch and then multiply that number by 2,400. That’s the impact.”
Welsh also said that prevention starts with averting one sexual assault, and it must continue one by one until all are stopped.
“It’s about one and the only number more significant than that one is zero,” Welsh said. “When we get there, we will celebrate and we will work harder the next day to make sure it stays there.”
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody said that in his time as the highest ranking enlisted member in the Air Force, he has evolved how he looks at sexual assault prevention after hearing a friend’s story.
His friend’s daughter was excited about joining the Air Force, but as she was getting ready to leave home, she told her father she was afraid of being raped. When her father asked why, she confided she had been sexually assaulted at a high school party after having a drink. Despite their great relationship, she had been ashamed to tell her father before because he had warned her not to drink and how to dress, and she blamed herself.
That’s when Cody realized he had often said the same things to his daughter.
“I wasn’t helping her be any safer,” Cody said. “I was really just building up an environment where if something happened she couldn’t feel she could come to me because I had already told her it was her fault every single time I watched her walk out that door.”
Cody said the experience changed his dialogue with his daughter and helped him better understand prevention. They began talking about the wingmen she was going out with and who would have her back.
“You are going to go out, you are going to experience life,” Cody said. “Our Airmen have to trust each other enough so they know we will always be there for each other. We’re never ever going to blame them for something horrific that’s happening. We are just going to be there to try and help them. We can never rewind the clock, but we can be there to support them.”