As I wake up from this fog called PTSD, things start to become more and more clear. I realize, much like my military career, my journey to healing is my own as well. One of the hardest things to accept while serving my country was that I had no where to turn for help. I needed to maintain my own well-being so that I could continue to be a high functioning soldier.
After awhile I could not hide the fact that I had PTSD. I didn’t have combat PTSD, I had an unnecessary PTSD from being raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, and discriminated against by the very people who were supposed to have my back. Although with the proper supports and help, we could have prevented the acute stress from becoming full blown compounded PTSD.
In the end, I realized that the original oppression AND retaliation for reporting those violent crimes is what truly damaged me. I was completely taken by surprise. I had no idea that I would ever be scorned and accused of causing a criminal to ‘lose their job’. I just assumed that I would be believed and taken care of. Boy was I wrong.
During the investigation, I was physically attacked by one of the assailant’s friends at a local club. I was knocked to the floor from behind resulting in an injury to my knee and a lost fingernail. Then I struggled away from the attacker while defending myself. But it wasn’t the physical injuries that wrecked me, it was the reality that I truly should not take my safety for granted at any time, anywhere. My life would forever be different from that day forward.
After realizing who the assailants were, I made the connection to the Maine Air National Guard and reported the physical assault to the local police department. Unfortunately, they did not feel this was a priority and dropped the charges I had pressed. I also informed my Commander at the time of what had occurred and he said there was nothing he could do about it because it happened off base (jurisdiction issues). The same ‘soldier’ who set me up to be attacked, and got away with it, was later convicted of a felony with jail time. He is still serving. http://www.sunjournal.com/node/680035
The investigation by the Commander (my boss) was eventually concluded and the court date was scheduled. The day before our “Administrative Hearing” I was contacted by the Commander who informed me that both of the individuals we filed Equal Employment Opportunity complaints on were willing to plead out but that would mean that it would not be a matter of public record. I wanted it to be over so I agreed to the terms. Of course I was fine with no public records because I wanted privacy. In essence what I did was unknowingly withdraw the original complaint and the whole thing disappeared.
I was willing to accept the pleas of the deal because they had to leave the squadron, not me. I didn’t hurt anybody and just wanted to go back and continue with what I felt was a successful career. But because of the way the military handles cases of violent crimes (or doesn’t handle), I was instead subjected to retaliation from those who chose to believe the criminal’s version of events over mine. These two criminals both retired with full military benefits.
I returned to relentless forms of retaliation that literally ran me out of the squadron. First when I got back to the squadron, I realized that I no longer had the positions of leadership or authority that I once had (demoted), then they would assign me menial tasks that would ensure that I was by myself (isolated), then there were the verbal cues and statements made by the very bold who had no problem making it known to me that I was no longer a part of the team (bullying), and finally the entire Chain of Command held me up at every turn by denying me the training I needed to attain my promotions (withholding of training, promotions, etc.).
During all this retaliation, I found out that my father was dying of terminal cancer and only had six months to live. I was working full-time as a civilian and at this point had limited my activity with the military to one weekend a month, two weeks a year. I asked them if I could come in during the week to make up the drills while I assisted my father with getting to doctor’s appointments, getting groceries, and overall support on the weekends. Their response to my inquiry was, “This could go on for years.”
It would have been one thing if they actually counted on me to ensure the mission was fulfilled but at this point in my career, they didn’t even want me at the squadron yet were going to give me a hard time about spending time with my father who only had six months to live. My attitude was, I am planning on giving you at least twenty years, why can’t you give me six months? If I had to do it over again, I would have chose my dad again.
They wanted me to take a leave of absence. I said, no, I can just come in during the week and make it up like everyone else. They acquiesced. Although, when I showed up during the week to start making up those drills, they started giving me a hard time. Basically, they started changing the standards because it was me. Anything they could do to give me a hard time was exactly what they did despite the fact that I had acute PTSD from the assaults and my father was dying.
It was at that time that I decided enough was enough and I was going to continue my military career despite the sexual assaults and retaliation. I transferred to the Massachusetts Air National Guard which was a four hour drive one way but it was worth it. I loved serving my country, I loved my job, and I wanted to be a Chief some day. My new Commander understood my predicament with my father and was willing to work with me.
My Commander may have been supportive but the others in my Chain had been warned. The old Chain of Command called the new Chain of Command and told them I was a troublemaker and to look out for me. Six months after transferring to my new squadron, my father passed, shortly after 9/11/2001. I knew that the Air Force had invested a lot in me and my training and I was not going to let all that taxpayer money go to waste because these freaks didn’t believe women could do maintenance. I walked into a snake’s pit and it continuously got worse until I had to get an ‘expedited transfer’ (no such thing back then) from there too. The tragic events of 9/11 gave me the inner strength and fortitude to put up with these people’s crap for the next four years.
I was able to keep the sexual assaults and case under wraps when I transferred to my third squadron but eventually it came out because of my 10 year security clearance review. I had to report on that form that I had received counseling for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from “military sexual trauma.” Had I received counseling specifically for grieving, spousal issues, or combat PTSD, I would have been exempt but because I was sexually assaulted on the job, not only did they want the information but they wanted my Department of Veteran Affairs records too. Now everyone in the Chain of Command knew once again that I had been raped (no privacy).
I chose to walk away as opposed to have a security clearance that carried a mental health diagnosis of PTSD from sexual assault in the military. I have a right to confidentiality and I am not going to walk around the rest of my life branded as a rape or MST survivor. I was TSgt Jennifer Norris, Satellite Communications Technician & Emergency Manager. I truly did not understand why these evil deeds by others followed MY career around and were used not only to harm me personally but end my career as well.
At this point, the USAF had invested a lot of money in my thirteen year career. It would have been great to have a resource other than my biased Commander who had the power to end my career. I needed someone who could have sat down and figured out what was best for me and the government after all the money they had invested in me. I guarantee that had I been given the space and time to get the help that I needed, I could have had a successful career. Instead, I carried a ‘scarlet letter’ and was silenced into shame because I was fearful of other’s reactions after what I had seen and witnessed personally.
In the end, I called truce deuces. My health and happiness is much more important to me then their approval. I have been able to focus on my marriage and my relationships with others. Now that I am not being abused by others, I am able to heal and move forward. I have accepted that you people needlessly gave me PTSD and I will do everything in my power to prevent others from suffering with compounded PTSD from not only a crime against a person but also the resulting retaliation that occurs because you have unprofessionals handling law.
Is this how you would want to be treated if you were traumatized because a violent crime was perpetrated against you? Guess what? This is exactly the kind of thing that is happening to this day because the Chain of Command is in essence a gatekeeper to justice and the military does not have the resources to treat their soldiers effectively. As evidenced by my own case, they do not want to have to report to anyone that a sexual assault or violent crime occurred during their watch. Instead, reporting this crime is used against you. That in and of itself is the ultimate betrayal.
I want a Commander who wants justice, is empathetic and wants me to heal, not one that is worried about their career. I want other warfighters who are not going to turn on me because someone said something that wasn’t true out of spite. I want a life that is free of abusers and bullies, hence the reason I married my husband. I have been betrayed on so many levels in my life that I expect to be betrayed now. And you know what? Because of that betrayal, I can stand alone. Everything happens for a reason.