Soldiers of 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (LI), observed the Department of the Army’s 12th annual Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month with a program Monday at the Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield dining facility.
During the observance, Heath Phillips, a former sailor and sexual assault survivor and speaker for Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit organization in Burlingame, Calif., shared his personal experience to raise sexual assault awareness among Soldiers in the brigade.
“When this happened to me, in 1988, there were no safe structures,” Phillips said. “There was no SARC (sexual assault response coordinator) or SHARP (Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Prevention program). You went to your master-at-arms, and they either believed you or not.
“Thankfully, the training in the military now is so much more profound.”
On March 31, President Barack Obama proclaimed April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
In his proclamation, he said “too many women and men of all ages suffer the outrage that is sexual assault, and too often, this crime is not condemned as loudly as it should be.
Together, we must stand up and speak out to change the culture that questions the actions of the victims, rather than those of their attackers.”
During his speech, Phillips recalled what ignited his desire to share his personal story.
“I was a basket case. I was an alcoholic, I would prefer to spend my time drunk, and I was a pain pill popper,” he said. “It was February 2009. I was so suicidal, and that’s when I realized I hit rock bottom. I just threw everything away; cigarettes and everything – it went in the garbage.”
Phillips said he was so incensed by the way his life had turned out and how he was overall treated that he decided to speak out.
“I want to help people, because that’s how I help myself,” he said. “Every time I share my story, it’s like I peel away a layer and go back to the (person) I was before this happened to me. For me, it’s a win-win.”
Since recovering from his downward spiral, Phillips has spoken to Congress and at public events. He also has appeared on film in the documentary “Uniform Betrayal: Rape in the Military.”
In the same manner, the Army also has taken promising steps to highlight and eradicate the corrosive effects that sexual assault has on Soldiers, unit readiness and trust.
Col. Michael C. McCurry, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade commander, said the U.S. Army is committed to reducing and eliminating sexual assault and sexual harassment across the ranks by enhancing prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy / victim assistance and assessment lines of effort.
“Leaders of all levels are required to establish a positive command climate centered on dignity and respect," he said.
"All leaders are empowered to engage directly at their levels to stop sexual harassment and sexual assault. They should feel personally responsible for the welfare of their Soldiers, Civilians and Family Members. Sexual harassment and sexual assault stops now. Not in the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. Not in our Army. We are trusted professionals."
McCurry will host four-mile Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Prevention runs designated for noncommissioned officers at 7 a.m. Monday, and warrant officers and commissioned officers at 7 a.m. April 14, respectively, outside of 10th CAB’s Falcon Gym. After each run, he will directly engage with the Soldiers in order to continue to build on mutual trust and cohesion within the unit.