By Jennifer Walleman, Fort Leavenworth LampMarch 24, 2016
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 24, 2016) -- Maj. Katie Crumby joined the Army as a private in 1996. Fresh out of Advanced Individual Training, Crumby went to Airborne School, where she was one of the only women in her class. She carefully followed instructions and received compliments from her instructors like, "You are doing really well for a female in this environment."
"I'm thinking, 'Oh, wow,'" Crumby said, "I'm doing pretty good."
The second week of training Crumby's instructor started talking to her as she waited in line for the next block of instruction or proficiency demonstration.
"I thought I was receiving the attention because I had demonstrated that I was somebody that could be applauded for her hard work ethic," Crumby said.
Crumby's instructor invited her to his break room to see artifacts of the lineage and heritage of the Airborne community and legacy.
"I thought that was pretty cool," Crumby said. "Of course I wanted to see things that are part of the culture; I'm getting ready to join as an Airborne trooper."
When she got there, she noticed no one else had been invited. Her instructor, who towered over her, started making advances.
"He pushed himself on me," Crumby said. "In a sense, I didn't claw his eyes out or punch him in the face or fight so to speak."
Using a baseball analogy to explain how far he assaulted her, Crumby said her instructor hit a homerun.
"He couldn't have done anymore," she said.
The next day at training Crumby said she felt isolated with nobody to talk to and was afraid saying something would cause her peers to resent her and put her at risk of getting injured during training.
"I wanted to leave the program with both my legs in tact," Crumby said. "I didn't say anything to anybody. I didn't say anything to anybody for 18 years, because I felt like nobody would feel that I was a victim, that I had put myself in that situation, that I should have known better than to go to meet his request, etc."
She thought she had compartmentalized the incident but several years later, while serving as a detachment commander, she started shaking as she was preparing to give a block of instruction on sexual harassment and assault.
"I couldn't figure out why I was having such a hard time," Crumby said. "The experience was coming back to me and what I thought I had compartmentalized and moved past was just coming back in full force."
Crumby thought about the assault now from the perspective of a field grade officer, mother of two teenagers and as a professional.
"I realize now that it was not my fault," Crumby said. "If I could go back and talk to myself as a private I would say, 'You know, Katie, here's the conditions that this person set you up for, here's how this person was a predator over somebody who was in an extremely vulnerable position, and it's not your fault and here's what we can do about it.'"
Crumby shared her story and leadership advice to her peers in the Command and General Staff Officer Course March 22 at Eisenhower Auditorium in the Lewis and Clark Center during the Command and General Staff School and Sexual Harassment/ Assault Response and Prevention Academy's professional forum titled "Achieving Cultural Change: Developing Organizational Leaders Capable of Effectively Implementing the SHARP Program."
Crumby was joined on the panel by CGSOC students Maj. Shari Bowen and Marine Maj. Alexis Piet, two other service members who were sexually assaulted while in uniform. Also on the panel were CGSOC Maj. David Dellerman, whose perspective of SHARP training changed when he was a company commander, and a first sergeant from Fort Meade, Md., who was and continues to be harassed and threatened on social media in retaliation for correcting soldiers' unethical behavior online (Editor's note: she did not want to be named or quoted in this story). The panel also included a pre-made video of Spc. Jarett Wright, who was sexually assaulted in Iraq by members of his platoon in a hazing ritual. The panelists shared their stories and concluded with a question-and-answer session.
"What our purpose here today at the Command and General Staff School is to give you -- in our humble attempt -- training that you often say you never got, to show you the face of sexual violence and sexual harassment in our ranks," said Col. Geoff Catlett, director of the SHARP Academy.
Catlett said that those in attendance had a vast spectrum of opinions on SHARP, from passionate zealots to the openly hostile of those who think sexual assault and harassment are a social agenda.
"What we're asking for you to do over the next two hours as we engage is to suspend all that; keep an open mind; listen to what panelists share and use it as a catalyst to reflect on your own viewpoint, your own values, because very soon you are all going to be organizational leaders and you will be responsible for this program as XOs and S3s," Catlett said.
Crumby concluded her story by giving encouragement to her classmates.
"I just want you all to understand that whether something like this has happened to somebody you know or to yourself 18 years ago or 18 days ago that first of all that situation shouldn't have happened. As organizational leaders it is our responsibility to set conditions in our training environments and in our units to keep things like this from happening and to teach our subordinates and our NCOs what right looks like and to keep an eye out for people who might be taking advantage of a more vulnerable population."
BETRAYED BY AN ALLY
Bowen was also an enlisted soldier before attending Officer Candidate School. The person who encouraged her to look into OCS was her first sergeant.
"I was a young E-5, had just been promoted, was a sergeant, was strong, living the creed," Bowen said.
As a supply sergeant, Bowen worked with her first sergeant often and had daily conversations about life. As a young, 20-year-old with two children and being recently divorced, Bowen opened up to her first sergeant about her personal life and sought his input on her professional life.
"He was one of my greatest allies," Bowen said.
One day, that ally betrayed Bowen's trust when he pinned her against the wall and assaulted her, ignoring her pushes and pleas to stop.
"My ally, one of my greatest allies, is now whispering in my ear, 'No one is going to believe you,'" Bowen recalled. "'You know I'm about to retire anyway. Who's going to believe you, sergeant? Say what you want to say.'"
In shock and disbelief, Bowen left without reporting the incident.
Reflecting on it immediately afterward, Bowen questioned what she did wrong.
"What happened?" Bowen asked. "Did I smile too much? Did I dress provocatively off-duty? Wait a minute. He hasn't seen me off duty. I was in uniform. What did I do?"
Bowen's daughter graduates basic training next week, and she said she wonders if anything has changed since the assault years ago.
"Is the Army safe now?" Bowen asked herself. "Have I provided an environment where she will be protected? Is it only about her and me? Of course not. Men and women everywhere this is happening to on a daily basis. Men and women everywhere who sit thinking, 'Should I tell? Should I not? Who is going to believe me? What did I do to make this happen? What did I do to provoke this?'"
Bowen said it is important for leaders to stay vigilant to prevent instances like what she experienced.
"When we see it and notice things going on, when we notice people in leadership positions spending just a little more time in places they shouldn't, talking just a little more friendly to soldiers they shouldn't, should we say anything or should we just say, 'He's just building rapport?' Do we become paranoid or do we just become vigilant? … Getting to know our soldiers, who it is in the force, will help us in protecting each other. We have to remain vigilant. We have to pay attention to what's going on around us. We create the atmosphere of trust. We are there to educate, to let them know there are resources."
RAPED BY A PEER
After commissioning into the Marine Corps, Piet attended the Basic School in Quantico, Va., with other newly commissioned officers to learn the basics of being an officer in the Marine Corps.
The week before graduation, Piet and her roommate joined the rest of her platoon to celebrate with alcoholic beverages. When they returned to their room they passed out in bed and left the door unlocked, something they did regularly when they were home because they felt safe.
While they were asleep, one of their peers from their platoon wandered in and raped Piet's roommate.
"She came to and saw him do horrible things," Piet said.
Piet said she didn't wake up during the rape but did wake up when the attacker crawled on top of her, started groping her and tried kissing her.
"I was kind of out of it still, and I just elbowed him a few times and kind of smacked his face and he left me alone," Piet said.
Piet was still out of it and didn't realize her roommate was attacked so went back to sleep. When the two of them got up in the morning they exchanged accounts of what happened and decided to report it.
"We exchanged stories and found out that we needed to take this to our change of command," Piet said. "To be honest, back in January of 2003, the programs weren't the same as they are today, but we did not hesitate to go to our (staff platoon commander) because over the course of six months he earned our trust implicitly, and we respected him also."
Piet said her commander respectfully listened to their stories and immediately handled the situation.
"That lieutenant was gone by the time we went back upstairs," Piet said.
Piet told the others in her platoon what happened and they agreed that they didn't want that type of officer in the Marines.
The next time she saw him was at his court-martial. He was found guilty and kicked out of the Marine Corps.
Piet said the reporting process was a success from start to finish.
"I was really lucky to be in the training environment that this happened and having a peer to go through this with me," Piet said. "I couldn't imagine going through this alone. At no point did someone say 'you should have locked the door, you shouldn't have been drinking with your platoon. You are a burden on our system.' I think that is an important takeaway."
Piet said she hopes her peers will listen with an open ear like her commander.
"I hope when you go out and are faced with a situation like my captain was, you'll be able to handle it," Piet said.
Spc. Jarett Wright was new to his platoon in Iraq. As a welcome, three of his fellow soldiers pinned him down and sexually assaulted him in his bed as his roommate watched in shock. His roommate, too, had experienced the same initiation before Wright was assaulted. It had happened to other men, too, who all agreed not to say anything because they didn't think it was rape and didn't want to admit that it took place. They changed their minds after Wright's birthday. For his 22nd birthday, Wright received 22 lashings, and a 23rd for good measure, with a belt while leaders looked on.
"I've been in hazing before … but not to this level -- shaving cream, (snapping) towels -- but this, I've never seen anything like it. For me to be held against my will, it was (emasculating), humiliating," Wright said. "I felt they were trying to make me feel my rank, that I was nothing."
The victims reported the incident to upper echelon and the command took action immediately. After a chain of command brought new leadership, though, Wright didn't hear from his command for six months. He was assigned to live next to his attackers in the barracks; he moved to another building in the same complex but was still harassed by his attackers at the shared laundry room.
"I didn't feel my command team had my back with anything," Wright said.
The situation didn't get addressed until Wright's mother contacted a state senator, which Wright said was the exact opposite of what should have happened.
Wright said he reported in hopes of preventing a similar incident from happening to someone else.
For others who do share similar experiences, Wright recommends telling someone.
"You can't keep this to yourself or this will eat you alive," Wright said. "It's not healthy for you. You have to tell someone. Tell your family, someone you trust, tell your NCOs. You just got to give them the faith and take the chance with them that it is going to end properly."
Maj. David Dellerman spoke about why his mind changed about the SHARP program and his hope to affect others' opinions.
"What I'm hoping for is when you leave here it's not another message of rules and policy," Dellerman said. "I hope you realize these are human beings we are working with, not just numbers."
Feeling the stress of his first assignment as a company commander in San Antonio, Dellerman thought he just couldn't fit more training into his soldiers' day when a SHARP representative walked in wanting to start a SHARP program within his company. He immediately wanted to dismiss the idea, but the representative starting sharing real stories of sexual assaults.
"I began to think to myself, 'What can I do? These are sons and daughters.'"
Dellerman apologized to his staff group for not correcting innuendos flung around that are gateways that lead to a thriving predator environment.
"I could have stopped them," Dellerman said. "I could have said something, but I didn't. ... It's the small things that are gateways. A predator starts checking around. 'Can I do this?'"
Dellerman said he would rededicate himself to stopping the small things.
In the question-and-answer session, the panelists were asked how they re-established trust in their organization.
"For 18 years, I didn't make any effort in putting my trust back into the organization because I was going about my life after the assault and my perspective was it was my fault," Crumby said. "I have spent the last 20 years of my womanhood putting the trust back into myself, to trust that when I think something is not right to trust my instincts and say something."
Crumby said she hopes she can be an outlet in her future units for soldiers who need somewhere to go with their stories.
"I want to be the voice for somebody that didn't have a strong enough voice," Crumby said. "I want to be the kind of person that is available and approachable for someone who may have experienced the same type of thing I did in another environment."