There are a host of fears that go along with being a military spouse. The first one that always comes to mind is, of course, the fear that your spouse will be killed while serving our country. While no fear has as deep an impact on our lives as that, there are undoubtedly other fears that we could compile into a list a mile long. Some of those fears are:
- Fear of your spouse losing a limb.
- Fear of your spouse having an unseen injury like PTSD or TBI.
- Fear of your spouse emotionally detaching themselves.
- Fear of your spouse deploying or going on extensive TDY’s.
- Fear of your family having to pick up and move often.
- Fear of your kids not adjusting to new surroundings.
- Fear of not adjusting to new surroundings ourselves.
There is one not on the list of the average military spouse that is MY greatest fear. It is the fear that my spouse will be sexually assaulted. It may not be something many spouses think of… how many of you fear your spouse being raped or attacked sexually? How many of you would label that as your greatest fear as your loved one serves our nation while in a military uniform?
I am a male military spouse, or a “MANspouse”. And as a MANspouse with a wife serving in our military, the greatest fear I live with when my wife is gone for an extended period of time has nothing to do with death or the loss of a limb. It has everything to do with someone violating her sexually. I do not speak for all MANspouses when I share this, but I can say that I have heard the same thing from over a dozen others.
Currently the US Air Force is facing a nightmare as details emerge regarding the alleged sexual assault of over 30 women by as many as a dozen Training Instructors at Lackland, AFB in Texas. It should be noted that in some of the cases the sexual activity is being reported as consensual, and that although some TI’s have been charged, no one has been convicted of sexual assault at this time. But this scandal has certainly put our military under further scrutiny. Everyone is waiting to see how the reported sexual assault of our service members will be handled.
When my wife enlisted, her recruiter assured me that since she is a female she would be on a large FOB (Forward Operation Base) should she get deployed. He said while not immune from mortar attacks and things of that nature, she would be far from the front lines of war. It didn’t take long for me to realize he didn’t tell me the whole story. In fact, I would even say he bent the truth like a silly straw.
When my wife deployed she ended up on a VSO (Village Stability Operations) in Northern Afghanistan. A VSO is far from being a large FOB. In fact the VSO she was on had anywhere from 11-35 people on it at any given time. Not exactly the security of having an Army to protect her like I thought. During that deployment I was constantly worrying that someone would sneak in to her room in the middle of the night. I would literally worry myself sick coming up with scenarios in my mind of her being violated. Little did I know that her being at a VSO was probably the best place for her in regards to my biggest fear. Because it was so small, the group was more than a team… they were a family. They looked out for each other. But if she were to deploy again today, whether it was a VSO or a FOB, my biggest fear would still be her being sexually assaulted.
I don’t expect everyone to understand that my greatest fear is not my wife being killed. My fear may not make sense, and actually may seem irrational to some who lay awake at night worrying that their spouse will never come home. My wife entered the military to serve our country, defend our freedoms, and provide for our family. She, nor I, should be more worried about the chance of sexual assault in the workplace because she wears a uniform, rather than working at a department store. She wears that uniform proudly because it stands for respect, integrity, and commitment to country. The difference between her uniform, and that of her fellow male soldiers, should not mean she is a target.
I can’t imagine what it would be like for our family to actually go through the God-awful scenario of her being raped, assaulted, or brutally harassed. The thought of something so heinous and disgusting has driven me damn near mad while she was both at military schools and while deployed. My wife is an incredible soldier who follows orders without question, and who holds the Army core values at the center of her being. Not because they were drilled into her during training, but because it is who she is. The thought that someone could violate her in such a way makes my stomach turn. And just as many MILspouses worry about what it would be like for their family should their spouse come home with war related PTSD, I worry about that trauma AND the trauma of sexual assault.
The latest news coming from Lackland has, unfortunately, intensified my fears. The only thing that makes me feel better is that because of the scandal, it is becoming a hot topic that many people in the military community are discussing. And while the discussion can be quite uncomfortable… it is one we need to have.
I, without a doubt, stand behind Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta when he says, “Sexual assault has no place in our military”. But what can be done about this problem? I believe it starts within our own community. It is my hope that military spouses who have a husband serving will start a discussion in their own families. The conversation needs to take place in every military home, barracks and unit. Why? Because the more we talk about it, the more we realize that the women in uniform are someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother. And with that realization we humanize the individuals and increase the chances that brothers in arms will stand up for their female counterparts should they have an opportunity to stop an assault. In addition, instead of letting “boys be boys”, men need to stand up and curtail any conversation that denigrates a female. I think we would be amazed at how drastically sexual assaults could be lessened if men would speak out against it, rather than disregard vulgar and abusive conversation… no matter how harmless one may feel it is.
While the recent news out the Air Force, and other branches, is disheartening, I do hold out hope that the military is making great strides to address and fix the problem. Not long ago I had the pleasure of attending a class through ACS (Army Community Services) that gave an overview of the S.H.A.R.P. (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program) training our soldiers are now given. While I know for some these sessions are a continuation of “death by power-point”, there is a large population who will embrace the new training. I am encouraged that the focus within the training is moving away from what society has said for years. Instead of saying, “well you called attention to yourself by wearing that/talking like that/etc., and that is why you got raped”, they are recognizing that we can no longer blame the victims for the actions of criminals.
This gives me great hope.
But still… sexual assault may not be every military spouses fear, but as a MANspouse, it is the one that haunts me while my spouse is serving… much more than the dreaded knock on the door.
**Editors Note: The author does realize sexual assaults are not limited to female service members.**