Over 200 service members walked together Feb. 12 at Contingency Operating Base Basra in an event coordinated by the 1st Infantry Division to make a statement about sexual assault in the armed forces.

It's not an easy thing to talk about, not for anyone: in one of the tightest and most close-knit families - the U.S. military - there persists this fact, ugly and without honor, without loyalty, without the basic respect for another human being, let alone a comrade-in-arms.

Awareness has many aspects. Most would not guess the ones they know capable of sexually assaulting another, and many who are capable of it would not guess that about themselves.
Sgt. Ryan Jalim, 206th Military Police Company, from New York City, has several reasons to be ever mindful of how common sexual assault can be.

"I have three older sisters," Jalim said, "and I'm also a police officer back in New York City, so I've seen rape and sexual assault cases a lot."

For Jalim, the event on COB Basra was about making a statement of support for victims, but also about raising awareness.

"I thought this would be a more appropriate way of supporting the victims, being as I deal with victims a lot," he said.

"It will definitely bring awareness, I think, to Soldiers out here, in Iraq, to know this does happen, even in a professional military organization like the Army," Jalim said. "People need to be aware of what's going on."

Members of the 203rd MP Battalion, out of Huntsville, Ala., were waiting for the marchers at the final water point, offering refreshment and encouragement to participants, several of whom had chosen to walk in body armor and full combat gear.

"I take it as something positive," said Pvt. Terrell Cole, 203rd MP Bn. and Huntsville, Ala. native. "It builds unity within the organization, throughout the military itself. "We had to take a class about sexual assault, and I didn't know that it was as bad as it is, especially in the military," he said.

It's easy to question what something like a 5k walk does to highlight that fact, to fight back in some way against statistics that tell us the most likely people to hurt fellow Soldiers are the ones they are closest to and most depend on.

Cole was short and to the point in countering questions of what an event like the walk can bring about to create a difference. "Knowledge," he said.

According to the Army Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Annual Report - Fiscal Year 2008, recent Army survey data shows that as many as 70% of female Soldiers who said they experienced sexual assault within the previous 12 months did not report the assault; including 56% of rape victims.

Pfc. Carnell Clark, 203rd MP Bn. and Dothan, Ala. native, said the event sends an important message to victims.

"I think that it's showing that we actually care what happens to other Soldiers," he said, "and showing that even when someone does something, there's always someone around to help, someone you can talk to."

Some 211 service members and several civilian contractors participated in the walk, not counting all the volunteers who made the event come together.

"The turnout was awesome, said Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Jordan, equal opportunity advisor, 1st Inf. Div., a native of St. Louis. "I think it was wonderful, it showed that a lot of people, they understand sexual assault, and they know how important it is to make sure it does not happen," she said.

Master Sgt. Thomas Miskevish, sexual assault response coordinator, Headquarters Support Co., 1st Inf. Div., a native of Charleston, W.Va. and the lead coordinator for the event, was equally pleased with the response to the event.

"I think the turnout was really good," he said. "We just wanted to make sure we had enough Soldiers out here. There are probably more civilians on this base than there are military, so I really liked the turnout."

The theme of the walk, which began in the hours before dawn and continued past sunrise, was one symbolically suited to the progression from darkness to daylight.

"It's so important that any victim, male or female, who is sexually assaulted or raped, that we take back our night," said Jordan. "I really think everyone came out to support that cause. It was amazing, from the command all the way down to the youngest Soldier, it was excellent," she said.

Miskevish pointed out how important events like this can be to remind people how to keep themselves and their comrades from becoming victims.

"It makes people aware that sexual assault is out there, to make sure you have a buddy, to make sure you're not going into unlit places at night and to make sure that you're watching out for everybody," he said.

Echoing Cole's call for the spreading of knowledge, Jordan said that events like this are important as educational tools.

"It opens the eyes for people who probably have no idea how deep sexual assault is, how it can really hurt a person, and how important it is that we, every individual, would make a difference, to make sure that it doesn't happen, not only in the Army, but just in everyday life," she said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16