By T. Anthony BellJune 18, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (June 14, 2012) -- A 23rd Quartermaster Brigade advanced individual training Soldier who graduated here Friday is being lauded for her courage in reporting a case of alleged sexual harassment during her time in basic combat training.
Pvt. Destiny Arellano, formerly assigned to Bravo Company, 266th QM Battalion, first reported acts of sexual misconduct by a member of her basic training cadre in March of this year. The Soldier accused of the abuse has since been held accountable and further action is pending the results of an investigation, said Col. Aimee Kominiak, 23rd QM Bde. commander.
The colonel, who said she spoke with the cadre member's battalion commander, said she met with Arellano and "thanked her for doing the right thing and having the courage to report something that was very hard to report and to tell her that the cadre member was being held accountable for his actions."
Seriously impressed by Arellano's actions, Kominiak now uses the incident as a teaching point for brigade Soldiers during her weekly briefings.
"My command philosophy is 'Do the right thing, make a difference,'" she said. "I used her, without using her name, as an example of doing the right thing ... how this cadre member was not living the Army Values of dignity and respect; how brave she was to report it and to encourage the warriors to show courage like hers to report it to their cadre if it happens here."
Arellano, 19, was assigned to BCT at Fort Sill, Okla. from Jan. 26 - April 6. A few weeks after her arrival there, she said on several occasions a cadre member whispered suggestive language in her ear, sent her two notes, inappropriately addressed her by a code name and later sent a package to her home address -- all in violation of Army policy. She reported the alleged misconduct to her chain of command but departed Fort Sill while the case was still under investigation.
Arriving here April 7 to start training as a unit supply specialist, Arellano felt the change in location would help get her off to a fresh start. During the course of her studies, however, she said she began to experience a loss of appetite, sleeplessness, anxiety and other symptoms due to her ordeal.
"It started affecting me in a way I can't describe," said the Los Angeles native. "It was way more than anything I expected. Before I experienced it, I would have only associated it with someone who had been raped."
Arellano made it clear that her harassment didn't reach that point but said she was nonetheless haunted by her experiences and felt insecure about herself and her surroundings.
"I just always thought, 'What if I see him?'" she said. "Constant worries kept popping into my head like what if he was right there? What if he just walked over here? Or what would I say or where would I go? Who would I tell? It started to become a problem."
Arellano said she became dysfunctional as a result.
"I almost left the Army and almost got admitted to the hospital," she said. "That's how depressed I was."
Sgt. 1st Class Juan Mendez Jr., a Bravo Company platoon sergeant, noticed the changes in Arellano and inquired about her state of being.
"I snapped one day and he said to me that 'you're such a happy Soldier but you snapped. What's going on?' I broke down in his office, and I told him everything."
Mendez felt Arellano needed closure and began persistent efforts to follow up on her case. In the meantime, Arellano said she also spoke with Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention and Response Program personnel and they were persistent as well.
A short while later, she received a status update from Kominiak and others in the chain of command. She said she learned that others in her basic training unit had come forward after her departure. That knowledge gave her strength. She knew she was not alone and that stepping forward may have saved others from having experiences similar to hers.
"At first, I regretted saying anything," said Arellano, "but after coming here to Fort Lee, I understand what I did and they actually told me that I prevented other things."
In retrospect, Arellano said she faced all sorts of uncertainties in making a determination on whether to report the incident. She said the BCT cadre member at Sill had already shown he could be manipulative and was popular among her fellow warriors, so she feared a backlash. Facing those obstacles, Arellano acknowledged victims would be hard-pressed to come forward.
"I feel like they would be scared," she said. "I wouldn't blame someone who won't tell because it is a difficult situation. How do you eliminate that fear? Maybe it's best to just find someone who can help."
Arellano also said that any feelings of closure or justice have been bittersweet.
"It doesn't make me happy or glad or proud to say 'Hey, I did this' or to brag about it in any way," she said. "I still struggle with the fact that it's not something that I ever would have wished upon myself, but it's definitely not something that should continue to happen to anybody else."
Coming forward to report sexual harassment, said Arellano, was made less difficult through facilitation. She said she felt confused, guarded and wary of male cadre as a result of her experiences at Fort Sill and those feelings were carried over to Bravo Co. upon her arrival here. Soon after, however, her thoughts about the unit changed, and she benefited from the supportive environment she found there, especially as it pertains to one platoon sergeant.
"If it wasn't for Sgt. Mendez, I wouldn't be here," she said, alluding to her previous statement about leaving the Army or winding up in the hospital.
Arellano is scheduled to report for duty at Fort Stewart, Ga., later this summer. She said she has aspirations to one day become a police officer.