An Invisible War

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| This is the 468th story of Our Life Logs |


You never think it’s going to be you until it is. And then it is.

Section Break-Mountains

Okay, so, let’s back up from that unnerving fortune cookie. I was born and raised in Minnesota in 1994, the youngest of three. Since I was the youngest child in the family, following my two amazingly gifted brothers, I took it upon myself to become the rebellious child. I flaked off on studying and basically caring altogether despite my parents’ high standards.

In short, I wasn’t a grade-A student. So, as it were, when it came time for me to get my life together after high school graduation, my parents decided they weren’t going to support me at a traditional four-year university. My choices were: go to community college, go in crazy debt, or join the military. I remember flutter kicking on my bright blue kickboard at swim practice, frustrated with life and practically crying because I just needed to get away. Dramatic, I know. But that year, at 17 years old, I decided to show myself (and everyone) that I could be independent. I would enlist in the military and change the course of my life forever.

I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps and join the Marines. I went to the marine recruiter’s office and when the recruiter saw me—a petite girl with blonde hair and blue eyes—he immediately said, “I’m not going to give you any special treatment because I enlisted your brother.” Yes, nice to meet you too. So, I decided he was a jerk and I ended up walking to the recruiter next door and joined the Navy.

• • •

Leading up to boot camp, I wasn’t so much afraid as I was anxious. I didn’t think about the great big trajectory of the physical strain that would be put on my mind and body. I was more focused on thoughts like, oh no, what if they make fun of me for being a vegetarian (of which I gave up the cause to fit in). Whether my outlook was naïve or not, it did make the whole process less soul-crushing so that when I arrived at boot camp, I could just focus on the task at hand.

Section Break-Mountains

After boot camp, my first duty station was the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion (MCSFBn) in Kings Bay, Georgia. While at my first command, some friends and I decided to celebrate my 19th birthday and St. Patrick’s Day at the same time in Savannah, Georgia. That Saturday night changed my life forever.

Besides me and my friend (another female service member who was also 19), everyone else in our group was over 21 and spent the entirety of the night in bars. They did, however, sneak us special wristbands that allowed us to drink on the street. After a while of awkwardly standing outside bars catching glimpses of what everyone else was up to, my friend and I ended up separating from the rest of the group.

We were both sipping on Mike’s Hard Lemonade, laughing as we enjoyed the celebration. That’s when we stumbled into two gentlemen (more like ass hats) on the cobblestone path by the riverbank. My friend and I noticed their “recruit haircuts” and asked out of pure curiosity if they were in the military. They said, “yes” and explained that they were there celebrating a bachelor party. We asked to see their military ID cards just for peace of mind, which they indeed did show us. I remember feeling a sense of comradery. I remember feeling at ease and safe. We hung out with them throughout the night.

Around 1 am, my friend and I wanted to go back our hotel room, but we couldn’t find anyone we came with, and, coincidentally, both our phones had died. The guys we were with said we could borrow their phones, but we didn’t have any of our group members numbers memorized. I did try to call a cab company (this was before car share apps), but the busy night had everything tied up. The cab company said that we would just have to flag one down off the street.

The two military guys suggested we go back to the house they were renting so that we could charge our phones and call our friends. We agreed. Once we arrived at their place, my friend and I went to the bathroom together and, while I wanted to leave, she assured me that it was probably better to spend the night there than on the streets of Savannah. She left the bathroom before me to make up the upstairs beds. When I exited the bathroom, one of the guys kissed me and I kissed him back in a confused daze. Then he pushed me onto a pull-out bed with no sheets and I explicitly told him, “I don’t want to have sex.” He said, “okay,” as if he understood, but his aggression arose with my refusal and the held me down while whispering, “You know you want this.”

I was drunk, confused, and vulnerable, feeling out of my body as I watched myself being raped. I screamed and cried out for my friend, again and again. When I gave up the struggle, I laid there and cried. He stopped when he noticed the tears running down my face. He got up and walked towards the kitchen with his arms above his head. I quickly pulled up my pants and he came back into the room. I started to laugh, he said he was so sorry, I kept laughing and tried to convince him that everything was okay. I am not sure why I was laughing; I just know I wanted to leave more than anything else.

Once I had my chance to escape, I ran upstairs to my friend. I saw my friend engaging in consensual sexual activity and ran to hide myself in the upstairs bathroom. I stuffed a towel under the door because I was so scared of anyone and everyone. My friend pounded on the door and I let her in. She brought my cell phone to me and I tried to call my parents, no answer. The only person to answer was my brother, Eric, who was stationed in Japan at the time, due to the time change, he was the only one awake.

Skipping ahead to the later morning, I left the bathroom at 5 am and told my friend that I was leaving with or without her. She asked the guy she stayed with to give us a ride to the hotel. On the way out the door, he asked me why the guy I had “been with” was freaking out. All I said was that he “wouldn’t be freaking out if he didn’t do anything wrong.”

Once back at the hotel, I did the number one thing you’re not supposed to do after being sexually assaulted. I showered.

• • •

My biggest regret that night is not calling the police. I was under the impression that since we were both in the military, only the military could prosecute him. Instead, I reported the incident to the command chaplain who then placed me in contact with a uniformed victim’s advocate. The uniform victim’s advocate was a large male. I didn’t feel comfortable talking to him, but he put me in his personal car and drove me to the nearest Emergency Room. After being in the ER for what felt like hours, I was told that that hospital doesn’t perform Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence kit (SAFE).

After numerous hospital visits, NCIS interviews, and command meetings, it was decided to strip me of my job and place me into a holding unit until trial. In the holding unit, I had to wear an identifiable uniform, pick up cigarette buds, and update the command’s Facebook page. That went on for a year. I never received a consistent advocate, I had whomever was on duty the day I needed one. To this day, I am not sure which was worse, the rape from a fellow service member or the mistreatment from my command. It was the worst year of my life. I was diagnosed with PTSD, Major Depressive Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. I was put on a limited-duty status and was being pushed into a medical review board for separation. I disagreed with my doctor’s diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and sought an independent provider’s opinion.

Section Break-Mountains

All in all, the Court Martial Jury found my attacker guilty of sexual assault in the first degree. That moment when the judge hit the gavel was the first and only time I ever saw my dad cry. The next month, instead of returning to work, the military cut my orders short and sent me to a new duty station, the USS George Washington, based in Yokosuka, Japan. Here, I knew no one and had no one. I dealt with anxiety and depression and every other mental strain in a foreign country. If you have any shred of empathy, then you can imagine the isolation I felt. And on top of it all, I felt betrayed by my country, the country I fought so hard to fight for.

But then again, it was not all bad. There was one specific service member who was about three ranks higher than me. She sat me down and said something along the lines of this command is hard, and that you must be assertive to make it here. She helped me adjust to the new surroundings, and to the new baggage I was carrying. She was an angel. If not for her…who knows. She’s one of those people with a confident and demanding aura, so, after watching her take control of tasks and conversations and what have you, I decided to change the trajectory of my experience. I mean, really—if being a survivor of sexual assault was going to be one of the new bullet points on the list of my events on Earth, then I was going to have to make it work.

Section Break-Mountains

As soon as my four years were up, there was no doubt in my mind but to separate from the service. I remember thinking that the military didn’t deserve me. This was when my new journey began. In 2016, I enrolled at Winona State University in Rochester, Minnesota, to pursue a degree in social work. I graduated in three years and then went on to graduate school. I am currently taking classes to earn Master’s in Clinical Social Work with an emphasis in military practice (not sure if I’ll work specifically in military practice, but the scholarship it came with was much needed).

In the days and years to come, I’ll give pieces of my experience away to those who need to feel known. I want to help victims of sexual assault find their sense of worth and confidence again, just as I did and am still doing.

Section Break-Mountains

I have no ill feelings towards the military, only ill feelings about my personal experience. I understand this may be a difficult read but before feeling any empathy towards me I ask you to acknowledge that I am one of the few lucky ones. I stand by the idea that sexual assault needs to be taken out of the military’s hand and dealt with by civilian sectors. I hope my story is not only comforting to other service members but also an eye-opener to the invisible war inside the US Military.

 

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This is the story of Anna Adrian

Anna joined the US Navy when she was a 17-year-old high school student. After graduating from boot camp in 2012, Anna left for her first station in Georgia. There, after only a few months, Anna was raped by a fellow service member. In her struggle to retain her sanity and seek justice, Anna found a new calling in social work to help victims of sexual assault.

In 2018, Anna got engaged in Paris. The two will be married in 2020, increasing her little family of three (that includes Anna and her two cats, Millie and Cutty) to four. Anna is also part of the North Star roller derby team, and dawns her derby name, “Annaconda.”

 

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This story first touched our hearts on December 17, 2019.

| Writers: Anna Adrian; Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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