Soldier uses couponing to aid sexual assuault victims
Staff Sgt. Kirston Smith, information management, 780th Military Intelligence Brigade, stacks the items she donated for the brigade's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program's Victim Response Bags. An "extreme couponer," Smith also donates to food banks, shelters, churches, and homeless veterans and families in need.

A woman enters the checkout line with her shopping cart filled with multiple items.

As the cashier scans each item, the subtotal mounts to more than $200. The shopper hands the cashier a stack of small papers and magically, the total cost is reduced to a mere $3.52.

How is this possible? And what does one do with all those extra bottles of shampoo and other sundries?

One answer is to donate them to a worthy cause.

Staff Sgt. Kirston Smith, information management, 780th Military Intelligence Brigade, has perfected the art of clipping and using discount coupons to purchase hundreds of dollars of products for little or next to nothing.

It's called extreme couponing.

Smith has been an "extreme couponer" for about two years and is always willing to share with those less fortunate. She is no stranger to helping charities such as food banks, shelters and churches, and homeless veterans or families in need.

Recently, Smith was approached by her friend and co-worker, Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Milledge, a victim advocate, about supporting the brigade's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, or SHARP.

The unit was in need of items to fill its Victim Response Bags carried by a victim's advocate when responding to a sexual assault crisis.

Smith was immediately on board.

"I was a VA in my previous unit. I know how important and helpful these bags would be," she said.

"We didn't have response bags at my previous unit. The victim used whatever the hospital would provide and that never included a change of clothes."

The goal of Army's SHARP program is to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assaults by creating a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army family.

Despite best efforts, sexual assaults within the Army still occur. And when they do occur and are reported, a victim's advocate becomes involved.

A VA is a volunteer who receives appointment orders for their unit, but first must be interviewed by the unit commander and command sergeant major. The candidate also must undergo a series of background checks, including those from Family Advocacy and the National Sex Offenders Registry.

VAs also must receive certification by completing an 80-hour training course and completing DoD credentialing.

The 780th MI has 17 victim advocates within the brigade and its subordinate units, as well as a sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC, and a SHARP representative, both who also serve as VAs.

A VA can be called directly by the victim, or by a hospital/emergency room where the victim is being treated. The VA responds to the hospital immediately upon being called, armed with a Victim Response Bag and ready to provide total support to the victim.

The bags containing personal necessities are given to the victim advocates who are on call to respond to the emergency room in support of victims of sexual assault. The VA takes the bag to the hospital so victims can shower or clean themselves after being examined, and will have suitable clothing to travel home.

One male and one female VA are both on call 24 hours, for one week per month, on a rotating basis. A cell phone is provided during on-call status, and the bags are always completely packed and ready to be picked up by the VA when needed.

Each Victim Response Bag contains a set of scrubs, one in each size of small, medium and large, for the victim to wear because often their clothes are kept as evidence. The bag also contains a folder with forms that the responding VA completes on behalf of the victim, as well as personal toiletry items for the victim.

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Pardue, the 780th MI's SARC, suggested the idea of creating the Victim Response Bags to Milledge, who implemented the idea.

While the unit was able to purchase the scrubs and the actual bags used to carry everything, it is not legal to use unit funds to purchase the individual toiletry items.

The regulation didn't stop Milledge from figuring out a way to get toiletry items for the Victim Response Bags.

"Instead of soliciting individual donations, I knew that Smith often donated her extra items to other charities," Milledge said. "So I asked her if she would support the brigade's SHARP program."

Smith has donated all of the toiletry items for the Victim Response Bags used by the brigade's SHARP program.

"I thought providing these items to the victim would make it more personal for them -- let them know someone cares," she said.

Editor's note: For more information, visit

Military One Source offers assistance, anytime, anywhere. A master's level consultant will speak to victims who are eligible for this service at no charge, 24/7.

CONUS: Call 1-800-655-4545, internationally toll free at 800-3429-6477 or internationally dialed collect at 484-530-5947.

Other resources include for victims: a local medical treatment facility; Military Police/Criminal Investigation Division; your commander, supervisor or first sergeant; the chaplain, social services, family advocacy; and Legal Services.

Military One Source, Army psychiatric counselors, and chaplains are confidential counseling channels.

You also can call the DoD Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5247.

Page last updated Thu October 10th, 2013 at 08:32