CAMP HUMPHREYS, Republic of Korea – Staff Sergeant Dianna Pham said it seems like it was just yesterday when she graduated high school and signed up to join the Army. Pham was shipped off to Fort Lenard Wood, Mo., in March of 2011 for basic combat training and advance annual training (AIT). There she was taught how to be a Soldier, the Army Values – to include respect, honor, integrity, and personal courage, and the importance of a battle “buddy.”
Pham was taught that battle buddies, your brother or sister-in-arms would always have your back.
By July 2011, Pvt. Pham, 18, was now a chemical specialist on her way to Fort Stewart, Ga., for her first active-duty assignment, ready put everything she learned to the test. She arrived at the airport, alone, only to learn her flight didn’t leave until the next morning. She decided getting a hotel would prove favorable and, on her way to get a room, she ran into two men who were also waiting for the same flight as Pham. After a short conversation she learned they served in the military before and were returning to active duty as specialist. The new information put Pham at ease: these were fellow Soldiers.
“They told me we could all hang out […] that we were battles,” said Pham. “I believed them since that is what I was always taught.”
The three proceeded to get their hotel rooms before going out to celebrate her graduation from AIT. Pham made it known that she had a boyfriend and she was only interested in hanging out, nothing more. The underage Pham and the two specialists ended up going to a strip club where she was fed drink after drink after drink.
“I blacked out before going back to the hotel,” said Pham. “I woke up the next morning – blood was everywhere. I had bruises and my tampon was on the side of the bed.”
She had been raped while on her period. Once Pham processed what occurred, she began to cry.
“The guys just proceeded to tell me, I asked for it,” said Pham. “That I wanted both of them.”
Pham got on the plane the next day keeping what happened to her a secret. She never even got the names of her rapist. Days turned to weeks and weeks into years. For the first nine years after the rape Pham said since she didn’t know who to trust. She turned to promiscuity to mask the pain – at least with these encounters she could control what happened and who it happened with.
Pham lost her trust in the Army, especially because at the time the Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program wasn’t a fully established program in her unit. Pham said she believes her trauma gave her the ability to see people for who they were. She was able to identify red flags waving daily, the ones others seemed to ignore. However, as a junior enlisted Soldier, she felt her voice wasn’t strong enough to make a change.
Pham attended annual and quarterly trainings in the past where inaccurate information was given, and instructors treated the subject of SHARP as a task to check off - a class given and done. Instructors gave misinformation on reporting and had a hard time clarifying the difference between harassment, assault, and rape. A year later, she saw an opportunity to become a victim advocate, individuals who provide essential support, liaison services, and care to victims 24-hours a day. She wanted to make sure Soldiers received the care they deserved after being assaulted or raped.
In 2020, Pham decided, as a sergeant, she wanted to become an Equal Opportunity leader. She had no idea what the work would entail but wanted to provide the assistance she wished she had as a junior Soldier. During this time, she shared with her family she was raped and said she could finally exhale. Pham was well on the road to healing and wanted to be sure she brought as many people as possible with her.
When Pham initially applied for the SHARP Career course, she was asked to wait for six-months by the sexual assault response coordinator. Pham was advised to speak with therapist about what happened to her, this way Pham’s wounds could heal and she would be better suited to help someone else.
“How are you supposed to help others, if you haven’t dealt with your own trauma?” Pham was asked.
Pham went to counseling and six-months later was ready to take the SHARP course and become a victim advocate.
Now Pham, chemical specialist and victim advocate assigned to the 23rd Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear and Explosive Support Battalion, uses her wisdom to counsel service members on the difference between an EO complaint, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. She said SHARP has become even more efficient now that Army policy has changed with the new Catch a Serial Offender Program (CATCH).
With CATCH, survivors do not have to know the name of the offender, only their identifying features: tattoos, scars, smell, jewelry etc., to identify the suspect. The information goes into a data base and if another survivor makes a similar report, the system will match previous entries and law enforcement members can track the suspect until they can catch him/her.
“The word is getting out about CATCH,” said Pham. “People are now being held accountable. I would advise Soldiers now, to always trust their gut. Don’t be afraid to tell if it keeps someone safe and don’t be afraid to not fit in.”
If you or anyone you know has been in a SHARP-related incident, please reach out to someone below:
- DoD Safe Helpline 24/7 Sexual Assault Support for the DoD Community: (877) 995-5247
- Garrison SARC: DSN: 315-755-2770 / Commercial: 0503-355-2770
- Garrison Victim’s Advocate: DSN: 315-755-1071 / Commercial: 0503-355-1071
- Eighth Army 24/7 Sexual Assault Response Hotline (Area III): DSN: 315-763-5700 / Commercial: 0503-363-5700
- DoD Safe Helpline App: Free from anywhere in the world