By Kari Hawkins, AMCApril 8, 2019
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- With a halting voice, Jeremiah Arbogast tried to explain the circumstances around a sexual assault that happened to him in 2000 while serving as a Marine lance corporal.
Now in a wheelchair and with the aid of a medical working dog, Arbogast didn't have to use many words to show the audience the affects that sexual assault can have on its victims. His audience -- civilians and Soldiers attending Redstone Arsenal's kickoff for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, April 2 at Bob Jones Auditorium -- quietly listened as he urged them to help stop sexual assault.
"If you think sexual assault prevention is not your business, you're wrong," he said. "To stop sexual assault, we need to make it all of our business. It will take training like this and leadership skills to lead ourselves out of this."
Every year, April is recognized nationally as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. This year, the Department of Defense theme for the observance is "Protecting Our People, Protects Our Mission."
More than 15 years ago, DOD established the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to help address the crime of sexual assault within the military. Now, all services conduct comprehensive sexual assault assessments and issue reports on trends to help leaders analyze their command's culture, said Maj. Gen. Allen Harrell, Army Materiel Command's assistant deputy commanding general for National Guard Affairs.
"Military and civilian leaders must not tolerate acts of sexual assault, and they must swiftly take action to bring resolution to allegations, while also protecting those who file reports from retaliation," Harrell said.
"Whether you are sweating it out in the gym or working hard in an office cubicle, know your role as an active bystander. Do your part to prevent sexually harassing behaviors which are sometimes a precursor to the crime of sexual assault."
At the age of 19, Arbogast was drugged, incapacitated and sexually assaulted by a senior non-commissioned officer.
"It really traumatized me," he said. "I couldn't believe another Marine had done this to me. I was dealing with depression and nightmares. I was just a kid. I really didn't understand what had happened and what to do about it."
Arbogast eventually talked to a base social worker, who reported the assault to the National Criminal Investigative Service. An investigation was started and Arbogast was questioned.
"But, I really didn't know what happened. I just knew something had happened," he said, who eventually agreed to be wired for a visit with his attacker.
"You have that fear. You don't want to be put back in that place where you were attacked," he said. "But, I needed answers, too. I had to dig down deep to figure out where I had the courage to put myself back into what happened. I was traumatized all over again to go back to his home."
During their meeting, the attacker eventually told Arbogast what happened, saying no one would believe a lance corporal over a staff sergeant. The recording carried enough evidence that the sergeant's home was searched for evidence and the crime went to trial. The staff sergeant was found guilty, court martialed and stripped of 23 years of service.
But, Arbogast's ordeal was not over.
"There were many aspects of my ordeal that kept re-traumatizing me," Arbogast said. "It took a toll on me."
In October 2009, Arbogast's depression led him to try to commit suicide. Instead, a gunshot wound to his chest left him partially paralyzed.
"They told me at the hospital that I shouldn't be here, that they were able to bring me back," he said. "I was told this is a gift. But, how can it be a gift when I didn't want to be here anymore?"
Those words lingered with Arbogast and were repeated by others. In 2011, he realized what they meant for him.
"People kept telling me that getting my life back was a gift. I thought, 'Okay. I shouldn't be here, but I am. So what am I going do with my life?' I decided to be an advocate, to talk about what happened to me and try to do something good with it," he said.
In 2012, he also competed in the Warrior Games, winning two silver medals and one bronze medal in swimming. Since then, he has spoken to countless military groups about the sexual assault that nearly ended his life.
"The ordeal of sexual assault ended my military career. But, my life started getting better when I realized that life is the gift that everyone said it is," Arbogast said. "I can still make a difference. I can use this to be a victim advocate."
Arbogast views sexual assault as an insider threat, a sort of domestic terrorism that destroys victim's lives.
"We are not going to eradicate this from the military or from society," he said. "This is an evil that we will have to always fight. We need to set achievable goals to reduce the number of assaults and to increase the number of reports. We can do these things as long as we set our minds to it and have support of leadership. We can lead our way out of this as long as we remember it hurts one and affects us all."
There are 30 certified Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention advocates at Redstone Arsenal, and the Army is committed to eradicating sexual assault with its military community, Harrell said.
"We know there is still a problem to address," he said. "The time is now. A time for our service members and the community to stand unified to eliminate sexual offenses from our society. People are making reports. People are saying they will not put up with this behavior, and showing they definitely do not want these acts to continue to discredit the huge accomplishments our military men, women and our civilians worldwide."