Under a grey sky that threatened rain, a group of airmen walked around Fort George G. Meade’s Burba Lake wearing backpacks.
Some of the backpacks looked like military rucksacks. Others looked like school backpacks.
The backpacks were filled with non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies and other goods for two local shelter and intimate partner violence agencies. But they symbolized the weight, the burden that survivors of intimate partner violence carry.
The airmen participated in a Ruck a Mile in Their Shoes, a military version of the Walk a Mile in Their Shoes event, which often sees men and other participants walking a mile in heels.
Items carried in the rucks were donations for HopeWorks of Howard County and My Sister’s Place in Baltimore. Both help survivors of intimate partner violence.
Before the ruck began, members of the Air Force and support services gave short comments about military sexual trauma, which can include intimate partner violence.
Members of the military need to talk about military sexual trauma, if there’s going to be a better Air Force or a better Fort Meade, said Col. Brian Tyler, commander of the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.
Military sexual trauma, which goes by the acronym MST, is not tolerated. It is incompatible with Air Force core values, Tyler said.
“We have to talk and be open about it and hold each other accountable to it,” he said.
Others who spoke gave information about intimate partner violence and resources available to survivors. In one hour, 1,200 people of all genders will be victims of intimate partner violence, said Charleston Gaines, citing statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Intimate partner violence is not just physical violence, Gaines told the crowd. There’s also coercive control, financial control, emotional abuse and sexual abuse.
Those who are experiencing intimate partner violence while in the military can seek services at the Family Advocacy Program on Fort Meade, said domestic abuse victim advocate Nicole Baptiste-Patterson.
“If you are a survivor, please come see us,” she told the crowd.
Survivors have the option of two ways of filing a complaint. Restricted or unrestricted. Only an unrestricted report involves the person’s chain of command, Baptiste-Patterson said.
Events like the ruck raise awareness about intimate partner violence, she said after. The military does have a stigma around reporting, which can create challenges.
But awareness of military sexual trauma is growing, including in light of the events at Fort Hood over the summer, during which soldier Vanessa Guillen was killed following a sexual assault report.
The event also helps to drill in that military sexual trauma is not OK and shows survivors there is a place where they can go for resources. Education is important when it comes to MST and intimate partner violence.
“I think it gets the word out,” she said. “People don’t know what they don’t know.”
It is important for leadership to also send the message that military sexual trauma and intimate partner violence will not be tolerated, said Col. Lisa Biewer, vice wing commander for the 70th ISR.
It can help a survivor to know that their command will stand with them.
“It takes a lot of courage for people to come forward and go through the court process,” she said.
The event Friday morning served two purposes. It helped raise awareness while also helping to collect items for shelters.
“A total win-win,” she said.
Those experiencing intimate partner violence, also called domestic violence, can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org. Survivors of sexual assault can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit rainn.org.