REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- A highly decorated Army sergeant major who experienced sexual assault as a teenager will be the guest speaker at the Redstone-wide kickoff event March 19 for Sexual Assault Awareness Prevention Month.
Sgt. Maj. Aaron Stone, a 21-year non-commissioned officer who serves as an instructor at the Sergeants Major Course at Fort Bliss, Texas, will bring his message of healing and recovery to the March 19 kickoff, set for 10 a.m. at the Sparkman Center's Bob Jones Auditorium, building 5304, and hosted by Team Redstone SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program). The Army's SAAPM theme is "Building Cohesive Teams Through Character, Trust and Resilience: Protecting Our People Protects Our Mission."
"With my presentation, I break the stigma that men can't be sexually assaulted, and I bring the message that there is no shame in seeking help," Stone said in a phone interview. "I was raped as a teenager, but it took me almost 18 years to come to terms with what happened and seek the help that I needed."
Stone was sexually assaulted at the age of 15 by a middle school teacher who had befriended him, and who had become his role model.
"I had no father and was looking for a father figure that could give me guidance," Stone said. "As a 14- or 15-year-old kid, I had no idea what was happening. I was just happy he was paying attention to me."He now knows that, instead of being his friend, the assailant was actually grooming him, which is the act of establishing and later manipulating an emotional bond to lower inhibitions to make it easier to commit a sexual assault.The assault didn't have an outward impact on Stone."I didn't do a spiral, and turn to alcohol or drugs," he said. "I did have problems with depression and just wanted to get away from home. I received a scholarship for college. But I turned it down because I wanted to get away. The Army gave me a way out."For the first 10 years of his military career, the Army provided the distraction Stone needed to bury the memory of the assault. As a combat medic specialist, Stone served around the world at places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Camp Casey, Korea and Germany. He graduated from college and completed all of the Army's non-commissioned officer schools, including the Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape (SERE) -- C Course. He was awarded for his military commitment, receiving the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal (1 Bronze Star), Iraqi Campaign Medal (4 Bronze Stars), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and NATO Medal (1 Bronze Star), among many others."What happened didn't affect my career. But I was hurting inside," he said. "No one knew I was keeping this secret inside. I worked hard at being a Soldier during the day, but at night I cut myself where people couldn't see. I was one of the lucky few who could move on, at least until I couldn't."When the Global War on Terrorism started, Stone, as a medic, found himself deployed and helping Soldiers on the battlefield."Even the really bad and ugly things I saw at war didn't compare to the memories I had buried," Stone said.Ten years ago, Stone finally reached out for counseling. Five years ago, he started sharing his story of recovery with young Soldiers."Talking to people helps me. It's basically my therapy," Stone said. "There is a need for Soldiers who have been assaulted to stand up and share what has happened to them. Even though we have SHARP, we don't have many Soldiers up front telling their story. My hope is that by telling what happened to me it will help other people who are hiding to step out of the shadow and get the help they need."Through his presentation, Stone hopes to emphasize the same things he tries to teach his 13-year-old daughter."You need to know what to look out for, and to not be afraid to talk about sexuality and the things that could happen or that do happen," he said. "We teach our children about stranger danger. But, in most cases it's someone we know or an authority figure that has power over us."Often following his presentations, Stone is contacted by others who have been assaulted."I got a call from someone in Hawaii where I told my story and it gave him the courage to report his attack," he said. "That's why I keep doing this. If I can help others find the courage to tell what has happened to them and get the help they need, then that is worth it to me."