VILSECK, Germany, Oct. 4, 2011 -- More than 600 community members stood tall, "extra tall," at the Rose Barracks Chapel here, Oct. 1. And the reason they stood so tall, to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault, raised a few eyebrows, as well.
The scene, part of the "Walk a Mile in her Shoes" event, was a sight to behold. Soldiers and civilians, mostly male, strapped on flashy red high heels and pushed strollers or carried their children in backpacks. Battle buddies teetered clumsily, holding onto each other for physical and even moral support.
That morning, nothing separated participants; every rank, race, age, background and gender stood as one community against the second most prevalent problem within the garrison, behind driving under the influence.
"We are here to raise awareness," said Capt. Lonnie Colbert, company commander for Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade. "Raising awareness ensures our Soldiers are educated on the subject to better take care of our families and always be ready to deploy and take care of each other. We want our spouses to thrive while they are back home waiting for their Soldiers."
At the event, Colbert was recognized with a size 14 red high heel mounted on a plaque for being the most motivational leader.
Sponsored by U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Army Community Service's Family Advocacy Program, the event officially kicked off Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.
"It was great to see the entire community come together. Sometimes we need to think outside the box to create a buzz and awareness that can bring people together for a common cause," said Jolly Miller, director of USAG Grafenwoehr's ACS. "They are all here feeling the same pain and supporting it for the same reason."
Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is an international men's march against domestic violence and sexual assault. ACS' Family Advocacy Program ordered over 100 pairs of red high heels, ranging from men's sizes 9 through 14. Other shoes were donated by community members and the Vilseck Community and Spouses' Club.
"It is the first time this event has occurred in Europe, and we hope it can set an example for many other installations to bring the community together in support of a very real and important cause," said Carolyn Bryant, ACS installation victim advocate and event organizer.
The events are usually somber, but Walk a Mile in her Shoes allows for awareness to happen in creative ways.
"We wanted to see who was 'man enough' to stand up for this cause, and I was overwhelmed by the strong showing of support by our community members," said Bryant.
In addition to the men, a few ladies donned their own heels, while other "heel-less" community members walked in a show of solidarity.
"I want to show our gentlemen how it can be done. You can walk one mile and more in high heels," said Jennifer Crisostomo, a military spouse. "It's not easy, but it can be done and I will do it with them."
The idea behind men wearing red high heels is not only because it is trademarked by the private organization called Walk a Mile in her Shoes, but because it serves as a metaphor for the pain, embarrassment and the "what will they think of me" thoughts that victims of domestic violence and sexual assault often feel.
"The fact is that numbers have shown that the primary victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are female. We are not gender stereotyping, because males are also victims and male victims are increasing in number," said Tammy Ricketts, ACS Family Advocacy Program manager.
In addition to the event, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity took donations on site for the local German women's shelter which was also participating in the event and were amazed by the creativity, and community involvement.
"The donations will most definitely make the lives of some victims a little easier," said Miller. "Without the community coming together, we could not even help those who are outside our installation. Our collaboration touched the lives of those who have been affected by domestic violence and sexual assault."
The ACS Family Advocacy Program team provided black awareness bracelets to the community with the imprint "Men Matter in the Fight Against Violence," as well as signs with statements that community members proudly held during the one-mile awareness walk.
"We had some spouses at the registration table take the instructions on how to walk in heels and a flyer of the event to send downrange to their Soldier," said Judy Joyner, ACS Family Advocacy specialist. "They wanted their Soldier to know what they did that day."
Whether they initially knew how to walk in her shoes or not, participants left the event changed.
"It takes a community to act and our hope as a result of the Walk a Mile in her Shoes event is that individuals will respond by calling the military police when they are concerned about any type of violence," Ricketts. "The more aware our community is about the subject and the resources available, the better our chances become to lower the statistics."
The next Walk a Mile in her Shoes event is already in the works for next year, so community members who missed out on supporting and watching over 100 men walking in heels have another chance.
For details about ACS Family Advocacy Programs or the Walk a Mile in her Shoes event, contact Grafenwoehr's ACS at DSN 476-2650 or 475-8371, CIV 09662-83-2650 or 09641-83-8371.