Though Senator John McCain is now a politician, he was also a Navy Pilot during the Vietnam War, and endured over 5 horrifying years as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam. I have the utmost respect for his service in the Navy and for the honorable and brave way he gave years of his life for this Nation. Given all of this, I was saddened to hear him state that he would not recommend a female join the U.S. Navy. I have been in the Navy for almost 23 years. I went to bootcamp just prior to the Tailhook sexual harassment scandal. I wish I could tell you how far the Navy, in particular, has come over the last quarter of a century. Would I let my 17 year old daughter join the Navy? (By the way, she is about to start her Senior year in High School, and, yes – she is considering the U.S. Navy among her options.) My answer is YES! I most definitely WOULD allow my daughter, my baby girl, the strong young woman I raised, to join the finest Navy in the world.
There is a problem, no doubt about that. For those who have been assaulted, it quickly turns a career full of service and pride into a nightmare, one where it used to be unclear if there was a safe person to tell. The military depends on your brothers (or sisters) in arms, your shipmates, your friends who are more like family, having your back when the going gets tough. It only takes one person in a unit, class, ship, or squadron to undermine the morale.
“Just last night, a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not.” ~ Senator John McCain
I can tell you, and I promise you I am telling you the truth, the military is a nicer place than it was when I first went to boot camp 23 years ago. There is still room for improvement, but the culture has adapted, and to change something so large in only a couple decades is quite remarkable. I think the change will begin to occur faster, and this current moment in history will be a “darkest before the dawn” moment.
In the last 2-3 years every single Sailor, from the most junior Seaman to the Admirals, have had more sexual assault prevention training than any other type of training combined. One point covered over and over during these sessions is how to safely report a sexual assault, including anonymously, if desired. I believe that the reports are up because they have made it so easy and “safe” to report the bad behavior, and removed some of the reasons that ladies kept quiet in the past. It is still not perfect in that sense, but it is a lot better. I believe there are very clear ways for a person who has been assaulted to report their attack without fear of reprisal, but there are still consequences, even if they are not against a person’s career, reporting still does impact their life – a decision to report or not must still be made. This moment in our nation’s military will further change the culture, and make the honorable job even safer for our young women. People who have swept sexual assault cases under the rug will begin to retire, or will be hurried toward retirement as required based on poor decisions they made. The training will be intense for a few more years, we will train our Sailors to keep an eye out for the danger signs, and they will police each other, take care of each other as they have always done. It will never go away 100%, as the military is truly a cross-section of society.
Should my daughter actually decide the US Navy is for her, we will sit down and have a serious talk about sexual assault and how her own decisions can reduce the chance of it happening to her. This is not saying that it is ever the fault of the victim that a predator chose them, but she does have choices about how much she drinks, about the type of people she goes on liberty with, and how she conducts herself. Walking down a dark street at night does not give anyone permission to rape me, but if I were not walking down a dark street at all, that would remove one opportunity. One of the best things we can teach our children is situational awareness, including awareness of those around you, how they treat others, and protecting their own safety based on intuition.
Col. Jeff Cooper’s situational color code would apply, and if a person allows themselves to become excessively inebriated, they would be in the “white area”: Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”
Again, this does not give anyone permission to assault you, but how can you protect yourself when you are not aware of what is happening around you?
The Navy has core values, values that we are reminded of from the first day of bootcamp and I frequently hear people talk about these values in their retirement speeches after 20-30 years of service. They are part of everything we do. It is time that we truly weed out those who do not demonstrate Honor, Courage, and Commitment. Honor in how they live, both in uniform and out. Courage to step up and call out wrong when they see it, and Commitment to a stronger, healthier Navy.
John McCain, an Arizona Republican, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing examining whether all serious sexual crimes should be removed from the chain of command.