January 6, 2013

Military Sexual Trauma in Aberdeen

Warning Trigger Alert: This story and its subsequent parts describe my experience as a survivor of Rape in the military. It also describes my experience with Cognitive Processing Therapy.

I joined the Army after I turned 18.  Though I graduated at 17, my parents refused to sign the papers I needed to allow me to join the military right out of high school.  I went to college for a year and then went to Basic Training in Ft. Leonard Wood, MO.  I did another year of college and flew to Maryland for Advanced Individualized Training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  Between Basic and AIT, I drilled with a reserve unit thirty minutes from my house.  I thought I had found the one place where I fit in and a career that I excelled at. The rules were simple, do what you are told and, for women especially, don’t go anywhere alone.  The worst thing in the world was to get in trouble with the Drill Sergeants or command.  I took that lesson to heart.

One night around Fourth of July, I was planning on going into Aberdeen from where my barracks were in Edgewood Area of APG to see a movie with a friend from my platoon.  Greg was very nice and I really liked him.  Before we could leave, Christine, another platoon member stopped me and invited me to a party off post.  I said no initially, but she didn’t want to be the only female there and I was the only female left planning on leaving post anyway.  I hesitated.  I didn’t really want to go to a party.  My head was in Army rules and I knew that Chris should not go alone to this party.  Our platoon leader was going to be there as were several friends.  Because were all in training for Maintenance jobs, there were very few women.  I talked to Greg about going to the party instead and suggested that we could see a movie another time. He agreed.

Our group stopped at the PX and those that were over 21 collected money and requests from those that were not and went in to get supplies. We took a taxi to a hotel off post and began drinking.  Back then I could drink a lot.  On my 21st birthday, more than a year later, I went out with friends to a bar after work.  I remember 14 shots of various liquors and 6 cranberry and vodkas.  My friends tell me I drank more after that.  I do know I puked in the bushes of a church down the street from another bar we stopped at that I don’t remember.  While I could drink mass quantities of alcohol, I wasn’t very good at it.

Our off post party amounted to two rooms.  One we called “The Party Room.”  The other was dubbed “The Quiet Room.”  After considerable drinking, Greg and I went to The Quiet Room to talk and share his Peach Schnapps.  After that night, I never drank Peach Schnapps again or spoke to Greg for that matter.  It wasn’t anything he did, it was because of something I couldn’t stop from happening.

An hour or so after we got to The Quiet Room, I took a shower to wake up and redressed in my T-shirt and shorts and nothing under because those were the clothes I was planning on sleeping in anyway.  There was a knock at the door and a guy from my platoon, Molina, and a guy from another platoon were there claiming to be looking for Chris.  I vaguely remember asking if she would be okay in The Party Room with all the guys we were training with.  Verch, our platoon leader, wasn’t drinking much and was a trustworthy guy.  He said he’d keep and eye on her and we were all supposed to be friends anyway.

Molina and his booblehead friend said that Chris got in a fight with someone else and stormed off all pissed off.  They were looking for her and asked if she was in our room.  I said no.  They asked if I would help look for her.

“She’s fine. She’s probably already back at the room.”

“No, she was pretty pissed off.  Even if we find her, we don’t think she’ll come back with us.”

“Guys, I just want to sleep. Go find her and bring her here to sleep.”

“She isn’t going to come with us. She’s pretty pissed off and really drunk. You should come with us. You’re a woman, she’ll listen to you.”

“Just go find her. She’ll go back with you. She’s probably already in the other room.”

“No, she’s not.  Come on. Come with us. We don’t want to get in trouble if she tried to get back on post all pissed up.”

They said the magic words in my drunken stupor.  “Don’t want to get in trouble.”  I was at a party I didn’t want to go to in the first place, under 21 and drunk off my ass.  I told Greg I’d be back after we found Chris and asked if he wanted to help.  He said he was too drunk and took another swig off his Schnapps bottle.

I didn’t know either guy I was with very well.  The nameless one was from another platoon; I don’t think I ever knew his name.  Molina was from my platoon.  I didn’t know him and really didn’t like him all that much.  I didn’t like getting in trouble more than I didn’t like him.  The guys were talking to me about looking outside the hotel because there was a pool and maybe Chris went outside looking for the pool.  I didn’t really care. I just wanted to find Chris and go back to the room.  I vaguely remember suggesting that one of us check the other room just in case.  Both guys vehemently assured me that Christ was not there and too pissed off to return of her own accord.  We got to a side door on the hotel and the guys decided to split up.  I would go with Molina and walk in one direction.  The other guy would go in the other and presumably, we would find the pool and meet up on the other side of the building, ensuring Chris would be found.

I was drunk off my ass for the first time in my life. That plan sounded reasonable to me, so I started walking with Molina.  He carried a huge, big gulp type cup filled with what I thing was Whiskey and Mountain Dew.  He kept passing it to me and telling me to drink.  I was drunk, so I drank more.  He was being very nice and grabbed my arm when I stumbled and talked nicely to me coaxing me in this direction or that.  He pointed to some trees on the other side of the parking lot and expressed concern that Chris might have started walking in that direct as post was that direction.  I figured we could walk as far as the trees and come back, so I agreed.  Once we got to the trees, I was too dizzy to continue walking.

“I need to sit down a minute.”

“Okay. Here, take a drink.”  And I took the cup again.

“What happened with Chris at the party.”

“One of the guys made some comments and she got pissed and walked out.  She didn’t come back so we checked your room and she wasn’t there either. We got worried and decided to look for her.”

I couldn’t really think too clearly and everything Molina said sounded reasonable.  He asked if I was ready to walk yet and I said I needed another minute.  He started asking me questions about different guys in our platoon and if I liked them and why.  I answered his questions thinking nothing of why he was asking except to make conversation.  He asked me what I like in a guy and if I could ever like someone like him.  A dull bell went off in my head from somewhere a great distance off.  Looking back, the anxiety I was starting to feel through the alcohol haze was a warning that something was not right.  I was too drunk to fully grasp it and it was easy to blow it off.  At the time, all I could think was don’t say anything to offend him. Be nice.

I told him he was a nice guy but that I really didn’t know him very well to give him an opinion.  He asked if Greg was the kind of guy I liked and I said yes, I really liked Greg.  Molina took my hand.  I thought it was to help me up. He stuck my hand down his pants.

“Is this enough for you?" The expression on his face was dead serious. The warning was louder now but I couldn’t put my thoughts together very well.  I pulled my hand back.  I told him it was fine but we needed to find Chris.  In my head I thought that if I said I didn’t like him or didn’t find him attractive, he would get mad and do something.  I couldn’t think beyond “something” to have any ideas of what he could do.  He laughed it off like it was a joke and reassured me that he didn’t want to make me do anything I didn’t want to do.  He passed me the cup, still two-thirds full.  I drank to keep him happy.  I said we needed to go find Chris and I got up and started walking toward the hotel doors.

Michelle Monte is a Professor of English and is working on several essays. She is an assistant editor for Journal of Military Experience 3. Michelle served in the Army and Army Reserve from 1992-2000.

1 comment:

  1. I want to commend you for stepping from the shadows to share you story. It's my hope that you find communion with other survivors as you begin your therapeutic self examination in full view of the public. By speaking up you can empower others to come forward to share their stories. The only way we end the Invisible War is by your voice. I am proud of you, keep writing.


Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee