“Heard the gossip about duty sections again this morning in regards to Command Staff..”
“YUUUPPP..people think this job is so glamorous..as if all we ever do is sit up there in our glass house and throw stones at everyone else.....ya know? I wish I could just catch my breath.. People just don’t get it..”
The vent session continued as I explained everyday life in the Command Suite for a few moments but was interrupted abruptly by a group of young sailors walking through the back door..
“I better grab those files now YN2”
“I’m here.. ya know, if you need me..”
“Staff Duty” in the Yeoman/military world equates to working directly for and reporting to the top dog of your company in civilian world. Staff duty has it’s perks, considering you are ultimately protected by the top 3..meaning, whatever they say in regards to your career usually goes. Due to working so closely with the Officers in charge you almost become a small dysfunctional family. You go through failures, successes, good days, bad days, etc. together.. it takes the entire team to make events and the office flow a success. Usually, Staff Duty means you get to go on the most incredible tours and meet and speak to the most inspiring top officials .. It’s as if you get a behind the scenes experience, and a tiny quick glance, at the “bigger picture “of the United States Military.
Like any other job in the military, Staff Duty also has its downfalls. There is no such thing as a “small” mistake..missing a comma in an email to an Admiral with your Commanding Officer and Executive Officer CC’d is a mountain, not a mole hill. There is NO such thing as your own dish, EVERYONE..enlisted and commissioned..is continuously in it. Oh you won Sailor of the Quarter?? You got promoted this cycle?? Don’t expect a single congratulations from your peers.. you only got it because you’re” Command Staff”, not because you earned it. Arriving late or leaving early for an approved personal appointment registers to everyone else as “making your own schedule”. It does not matter if you are involved in 6 collateral duties, 2 major symposiums, and you volunteer 40 hours of your off time to the community .. NOTHING you ever do alters the perception that you are favored.
Most of the things listed above are easy to ignore..in fact, all of them are..I can think of only one thing that cannot be ignored, and ultimately, can ruin your career in its entirety..and that is, the isolation from other leaders and peers..
“Haz”..I looked up from my computer screen to see the Admin Chief in the doorway of the Command Suite..
“Yes, Chief”.. he didn’t reply but instead utilized his hand to notion for me to follow him. I removed my CAC card from my card reader and began to follow his lead.. my mind began to race a million miles per hour.. What emails have you sent out today? Did you get all of the chits pulled? How has your phone etiquette been? Is this about duty sections again? Did he see me kiss Sean in the parking lot, in uniform, earlier? .. a 20 second walk into a private, small, office seemed like a 15 minute mile. As I stepped inside Chief asked me to shut the door, it was then that I knew the deal was officially sealed.. Somewhere along the line of today’s events I royally and seriously f*cked up.
I shut the door as chief took a seat on the top of the vacant desk, closest to me, leaving one foot dangling off the side of the desk and the other foot planted solid as a rock on the floor. I stood tall, a little uncomfortable and confused, and waited to be undressed (not literally, when someone is being undressed it means they are getting their a$$ chewed). .
Chief looked me dead in the eye and began to speak, in a stern yet concerned voice..
“I need you to look at me and answer me honestly Haz, how long has all of this been happening”..
I unlocked my eyes from his and stared at the wall
“Chief, what are you talking about”
“Haz, how long”..
“I don’t know what you are talking about Chief, I need to get back to work” as I turned away from him (completely out of character, having zero regard for his rank) and reached for the handle on the solid wood door Chief raised his voice and a tear effortlessly slipped out of my eye..
“Haz get back here and take a seat, this conversation is not done until I say it is done” Chief slid the chair next to me away from the desk as I slipped into it and rested my head in my hands..
I sat there in silence for what seemed like hours..the acting CMCs voice playing over and over in my head “do you know how many girls have reported me? And guess what..IM STILL HERE”.. finally, I mustered up the courage to speak..”Since before I had the baby..What started off as snide comments and uncomfortable ridiculous pet names slowly turned into physical altercations..(I paused quickly, catching myself from over sharing.. my emotions took a quick turn from timid to pure anger) why do you even care Chief? It’s the good ole’ boys club anyway,right? I’m going to tell you all of this information and you’re going to sweep it underneath that chiefly rug of yours and it’s never going to go anywhere but the chiefs mess for a good laugh.. and then I’m going to be up here.. stuck picking up the pieces and dealing with the angry after math of it all. I have reported this TWICE and guess where it went?? NO WHERE! So who really cares what has gone on up here when the CO and XO are busy? It’s fine. I’m fine. Things up here are fine. Let’s just go back to work and forget this conversation ever happened”.. I crossed my arms underneath my chest, signaling that I was completely closed off from the conversation, and waited for the screaming match to begin..
Chief slowly shook his head and cleared his throat..
”Haz, I can’t do that, you know I can’t. This conversation IS taking place and I don’t know what kind of Chiefs Club you think I am a part of but It’s not the one you have your mind set on..there is no broom and there is no rug..I already have an idea of what has happened, I’m a Chief, I hear things ..now it’s time for you to come clean”
My mind shifted to the conversation I had with YN2 earlier that day, the puzzle pieces slowly began to fall into place..
“If I tell you will you be satisfied and not report it..he will know it was me .. nothing is going to happen to him cause he is acting Command Master Chief, we both know that.. XO and CO will believe him over anyone else.. “
“ I..WE..have to report it. Whether you come forward or not I have to report what has already been seen and heard”
I sat there quietly crying..afraid to move or speak.. internally battling my fight or flight reflexes..
“Can we do this with our department head and get it over with all at once”
I wiped my tears and stood from my seat..chief opened the door and we began the walk to our department heads office.. but this time, Chief was following my lead.. as if he already knew I was going to change my mind at any moment, turn around, and run in the opposite direction.
The days and months after that were consumed with awkward stares and the drafting of teams. The acting Command Master Chief was removed from his position while the investigation was conducted and the mention of attorneys and court dates became everyday talk. Throughout the investigation and court process several old cases from his past resurfaced, cases in which service members reported the same abuse by the same person but the reports were swept under the rug and forgotten about by everyone but the people whose lives were affected and altered. Eventually, over a year later, justice was finally served and the man who had served over 20 years of “honorable” service was dishonorably discharged and lost everything he had worked so hard to build.
The day we received the verdict and he was sentenced I thought I would never revisit this story again. I thought I would tuck it away in the back of my brain and continue to trudge forward in my career.. Instead, the polar opposite happened. I ended up diving into anything having to do with Women’s Rights and Women Empowerment in the Navy and chose to share my experience at different events. Instead of allowing the experience I had with ONE horrible example of a leader to ruin the rest of my career I began to use it as an inspiration to keep going.. it was as if I had something to prove to not only myself or my abuser..but I had something to prove to every other service member out there, suffering in silence, making excuses for the mistreatment that is happening in their workplace.
Most of you are probably wondering why I chose to publically share this years later and the answer to that very question starts with a private message I recently received from an old co-worker, who I only exchanged a handful of words with while I was in, that simply asked one question “How did you do this for so long”? Puzzled, I began asking questions. Slowly but surely the reality of her situation began to feel all too familiar and all I could tell her was report it, report it, report it. She refused due to the "shame" she feels she would ultimately have to face at her current assignment.
I wrote this blog in hopes it will come across her computer screen, at the right time and place, and that it gives her the courage she needs to take a stand. All it takes is ONE voice, ONE victim, for the truth to unravel. If it is happening, I mean honestly happening, whether it be physical abuse or sexual..it will eventually come to light..but it has to start with that ONE person who speaks up and that ONE leader to listen. No one, regardless of rank, has the right to lay hands on another service member. No matter how stressful the day was or what it is you think you have “done wrong”..no one has that right.
If I could turn back the hands of time and do things differently I would have mustered up the courage to knock on the doors of my XO and CO and tell them the things that were occurring when their backs were turned. If I could go back, instead of saying stop I would have yelled it..instead of ignoring, blowing off, or excusing his inappropriate talk and behavior I would have reported every.single.incident. that occurred. If I could go back I would not have learned to “deal” with it when my two reports failed to go anywhere.. I would have known that there were offices with leaders in them sitting below me and in front of me that would have jumped in and stopped his senseless acts..if only I had had the strength to continue to report it and fight.
Lucky for me, a vent session at the end of a staircase with an old YN2 turned into a reported incident that brought justice to not only myself, but other victims whose cases were shoved under a rug.
Sexual and Physical abuse may be common in the military but that does NOT make it ok, you do not have to become another statistic..
I’ll just leave this right here..