Snakes on a Plane

By Colleen Kosloski

A few years back when I was still in the Navy, I was traveling across the country for TDY. The whole creepy encounter started all the way back in the security line, although I didn’t realize it at the time. The man behind me in line must have seen me hand my military ID to the TSA agent so he struck up a conversation and told me he had been in the Navy- former Chief. He told me he was now a contractor working for the government and heading back home from a work trip. He handed me his business card. I was polite and chatted briefly and that was that. I will call him Contractor A.

When I reached my gate early,  I decided to stop at one of the small gate-side cafes for a quick snack. Contractor A happens to be there too and sits down on the stool next to me. He continues to tell me about his time in the Navy and about his family back East- wife, kids, dog, etc. Innocent enough I think- former Navy guys always like to talk to other Navy folks and relive their glory days. I humored him and again, was polite. I finished eating and left the cafe.

They finally began boarding and what a coincidence (or so I thought)-Contractor A pops up right behind me in the boarding line- we are on the same flight. This time he seems to be standing way too close and keeps offering to help carry my bags. I politely decline and board the plane and sit in my aisle seat. When he gets on the plane he tells the person next to me that we are together and asks to trade seats. Even after I say “No- we aren’t together” the other person swaps because it gets him out of a middle seat. Good deal for him. When Contractor A sits down I notice the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. Here we go. Then his hand “accidentally” ends up touching my thigh as he fumbles for his seatbelt. “Sorry, haha,” he chuckles.

After takeoff, he turns to me and out of nowhere says, “Come on admit it. Don’t you find me just a little attractive?” I was shocked. Then he grabs my knee and asks if I’ll share my blanket with him. “No way,” I said. He kept leaning closer and touching my leg and asking me for “just a little kiss on the cheek.” I was so creeped out. I told him to move over and not to touch me again unless he wanted to get punched.” He finally fell asleep (passed out I think) but I couldn’t fall asleep the whole flight. When we landed, he woke up and acted like nothing had happened- didn’t even acknowledge me or say a word. Either he was so drunk that whole time and actually forgot everything, or was way too embarrassed to look at me- I’m not sure- but he got off that plane so fast and kept his distance. Looking back, I wished I had asked the flight attendants to switch seats to 1) get away from him and 2) embarrass him,  but I was so shocked I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t want to make a scene. I am a strong, capable adult and I guess I knew I wouldn’t let it go further.  But what about the young girls traveling alone or seated away from their parents? Who protects them from these creeps? I’m glad the passengers and flight crew were aware enough to intervene and help the girl in the article. And girls- it’s ok to make a scene, call them out. No need to be polite and protect these creeps from embarrassment. Maybe they will think twice next time.

https://www.distractify.com/p/women-stop-creepy-man-on-airplane?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=paid&utm_campaign=23843286114400482 

I am Not Alone

courtesy of huffpost.com

pic courtesy of huffpost.com

by A Silent Sister

The Sisterhood article on Herndon fits neatly with how I felt at the beginning of the whole #MeToo movement. It actually does help to know I’m not alone.

Im so hesitant to write this, so it definitely needs to stay anonymous. At the same time, I envision using my experience to hopefully help guide and teach my kids and maybe even my nephews and nieces any possible lesson before someday launching them to college. But as for now, my husband is the only person Ive ever told and shared any shred of detail with. As strong as I think I am and as strong as I feel inside my own head about this, when I go to say the words out loud, I cry. 

pic courtesy of medium.com

I had just finished Plebe Year and was part of Summer Seminar Detail, something I was excited about being a part of. At the end of one of the sessions and before the next one started, a few of us Youngster detailers got together for the weekend. Ill cut to the chase – we drank and we drank a lot. I was drunk. Im fairly certain every one around me was, too. I dont remember going into a room with two of my fellow classmates or how the hell I got there, but there I was. What do I remember? Luckily less and less now as memories fade, and the memories I do have of that night are oddly from the perspective of the uppermost corner of the room, certainly not from inside my own body. I remember reading later on that disassociation is perfectly normal in these circumstances. I remember saying no that night. Repeatedly. Although maybe not too forcefully or not forcefully enough? But I do remember saying it and maybe even pushing away. I do remember those two guys all over me. I think Ill skip more detail for now and end my story there. 

pic courtesy of jennifershtonmd.com

That night fundamentally changed me. I barely recognize myself looking back on my Youngster year and a lot of that is still true for the two years after that before graduating. I gained a good amount of weight. I was way more promiscuous and honestly downright stupid that following year. My grades dropped, and there are just so many other examples. It really tainted my time at the Naval Academy, a place I had dreamed of going for so long. Sometimes, I wonder how much it held me back from realizing my full potential there. How much am I responsible for and how much can I blame on that awful night? I dont know. I met my now husband the following year. It took years – beyond the Naval Academy and well into our marriage – for me to slowly compartmentalize that experience and kind of box it up and be able to put it aside and let it go. Im very happy to say that it no longer ever bubbles to the surface of my mind anymore or commands any sort of emotion or thought. It is what it is.Its in the past, and Im leaving it there. 

pic courtesy of indy100.com

At the time, I really needed a nonjudgemental sounding board, someone I could talk to to help me wrap my head around what had happened. Rape is too often made out to be this black and white issue, when in fact it can feel like a million shades of gray. I was wrong – I was drunk. I didnt really actually know the people I was with. Maybe I sent some sort of signal that I was game for that sort of thing. Who knows. But I also know that they were more wrong. They had to be. I said no, I pushed back (though lightly, I guess?). If I had reported that night, surely I would have gotten myself in trouble for drinking, that whole night would become public to the Brigade with everyone knowing our names, people would take sides, and I would ruin two other peoples life trajectories with a very gray, drunken event. It felt complicated and like a very heavy burden.

My main takeaway from this is that a truly successful [Sexual Assault Prevention and Response] program (or even being a good friend to someone who finds themself in a similar situation) needs to be 100% victim led, even in (and especially in) a consequenceheavy military environment. The victim needs to be in control, whether we agree with her/him or not. That means an incident can be reported or not, no matter how egregious. Maybe they just want to talk. Maybe they just want to make sense of it for themselves. Maybe they just want to find a way move on. And that has to be okay. SAVI utterly failed me, in this respect, because there was no confidential counseling option, and it seemed awkward to unload all of this on a company mate or any other member of the Brigade. So theres another point – maybe contracting out with actual licensed therapists and people who feel more anonymous is also an important factor for a successful program. Im incredibly lucky my husband came along and could fulfill this roll for me – fellow keeper of my secret and nonjudgemental sounding board who let me keep control. I know it wasnt easy for him and it certainly wasnt easy for me, but here we are so many years later living a happy life, and Im very thankful for that.

Editor’s note: Since this incident occurred, the Naval Academy and the wider Navy instituted a reporting system that allows victims to come forward to their Victim Advocate for medical and mental health support without command involvement—the restricted report. This has been as a crucial step for victim reporting. Additionally, licensed therapists outside of the Brigade and Chain of Command are now available for midshipmen to seek counseling for the aftermath of sexual assault.

Turn the Tide

By Michele Cruz Phillips ‘98

Recently, Kate shared her experience with our first Twitter Troll.  I get an email when someone sends us a direct message on Twitter, and when I saw “Can I know you?” my first thought was “Ok, here we go.” Thankfully, Kate was already on it and messaged all of us on Facebook, giving us the play by play with screenshots as the conversation unfolded.

My initial reaction was like Kate’s: ‘Please don’t send a dick pic.” We emoji laughed.  I admittedly said I wasn’t sure what to do, but my thoughts were (in this order):

1) Creep
2) Ok, this is making me feel uneasy
3) Maybe just ignore him
4) Wow, he’s persistent
5) Just get off of messenger and block him!

I imagine this train of thought may sound familiar to some of you.  I think there are other women who have had the same thoughts while dealing with inappropriate situations with men; first, we question if this is really happening, we politely try to downplay it, then we try to ignore, and finally we think we are taking the high road by just getting out of the situation (hopefully) unscathed.

I personally have been through this exact thought process before.  Multiple times in fact. One of those times was during Herndon.

I never made it very close to the monument itself. I was in the sea of people on the outskirts, supposedly providing more support for the base. As I stood there smooshed between my classmates, I felt a hand on my back.  Hmm, that feels different, but not too weird since we are packed in so close I can barely breathe.   The hand moved around and tried to get underneath my waistband and in between my legs.  Bam! I shoved my elbow as hard as I could at someone behind me. A short while later, he tried it again, and he was met with the same resistance.  I glanced behind me, and while I don’t remember his name, I know his face. I am pretty sure I know who it was but with so many people around, maybe it was hard to tell.  Anyway, honestly I’ve been over it. Or so I thought. Then, I watched Dr. Ford’s opening statement.

There is a point in her statement where she describes running out of the house after her horrific incident.  I sat on the edge of my living room couch with my heart beating fast, hanging on her every word as she talked about how she remembers standing in the street and feeling….relieved.  What? She wasn’t terrified? Angry? She was almost…grateful? Yes. Because it could have been worse. And then it hit me.

This is the trap many of us fall into, isn’t it?  Well, he didn’t actually rape me. His jokes make me feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t happen that often.  Or, in my case, at least his hand never made it to its final destination. That’s why I never said anything.  In my mind at the time, it wasn’t a big enough deal to report it. I was an 18 year old girl in a predominantly male institution.  It happened during a long-standing, revered tradition – a rite of passage. Nothing actually happened. But something did. Someone saw another person trapped, in pure daylight, in a crowd of people, and tried to take advantage of the situation.  What did this guy do behind closed doors? Has he done something worse since? Even if I didn’t report it, couldn’t I at least have confronted him? Nah, my 18 year old self didn’t think it was worth it.

I’m not sharing this because I’m angry at him, which I am not.  This isn’t about placing blame. We at the Sisterhood always try to think, “If we share this, how can it be helpful”?  Well, I’m sharing this because I hope it gives people some perspective. I cannot answer exactly why, but it’s just not that easy to say something.  Something that is embarrassing. Something that no one may believe. Especially when the odds are stacked against you. In these close call situations, the initial reaction is relief, so is this really worth addressing? The answer is yes.  The other part of the answer is that it won’t always be easy, but we have to try.

I’m talking about challenging these types of situations during everyday interactions in our communities.  In one of my previous jobs, when a new woman reported to the office, my male worker said “I hear the new girl is pretty,” and snickered with my other male coworkers. I replied “Yes, she is.  She’s also very smart and professional, which you should also know. I think she is going to do really well in this job.” We need to start changing the conversation, calling things as we see it.   These small interactions count, because our friends and children are watching. Just like I watched Kate handle our Troll so eloquently and professionally – while standing up for herself. Well, actually, us.  So thank you Sister, for setting the example. It inspires me to do the same. Little by little, we will turn this tide. Together.

 

Change is Inevitable

By CAPT Jillene Bushnell

My flight plan has changed so many times, I’ve stopped counting, I’ve become gentler on myself when these changes occur in my later years. During my four years by the bay, I thought I would be a fixed-wing, jet, test pilot like my Uncle. It’s the reason I joined the Navy. Along the way, I very much enjoyed the Sailors and the air wing. I loved carrier aviation and flying as the night carrier in the second Gulf War. I thought I could leave Carrier Air Wing Three (CAG-3) unattached to transition to a new aircraft when I realized the person I always called to share my day with was a fellow CAG-3 aviator now instructing 300 miles away from my Naval Air Station.

Staring 32 in the face, I took a fix…do I traverse the path of solitary service (fun air wing antics and all) or do I choose a family? That was the simplest waypoint for me, and I jumped into motherhood without hesitation. Pregnancy and ejection seats are oil and water, so I flew the simulator and a desk for eight long months. As a Category 2 student (aviator transitioning from one airframe to the next), though, I did not win friends. I personified all the reasons why women should not fly combat aircraft (my sarcastic tone cannot be heard through my writing). My Skipper used me as FITREP fodder during a period under instruction (not normal), observing me to help his reporting senior average.

A 1 of 1 MP, two traits below his average, I would never make Aviation Department Head during my Super JO tour. I had to refile my flight plan. AEDO did not have any ‘98 openings during the next lateral transfer board, and I was two months’ shy of my aviation commitment, crippling me from lateral transferring into a different career field. I took a fix on my career and family, decided to choose my family over aviation, and dropped a letter voluntarily separating from flying turning me into the dreaded GENAV, the Navy’s fodder for all things. I took my chances at the lateral transfer board to be turned down by my requested communities. My Skipper (yup, same one) promptly provided me the opportunity to serve my country with a provisional reconstruction team in Afghanistan for 365 days plus unaccompanied front side training for 90 days.

As I prepared my Active Duty husband and eight-month old son for the inevitable, a phoenix was born from the ashes. Meteorology and Oceanography Command needed my skill set in my year group; a letter arrived advising me of this new opportunity a week prior to my deployment. The community required a 2 1/2-year master of science in meteorology and physical oceanography that I had to attain prior to a deployment as a staff oceanographer. Having already selected O4, I was time-constrained to hit all my wickets in order to make O5, but a fix was not required. I lead-turned that waypoint immediately. My son and I moved to Monterey as soon as my old community would detach me, maintaining the geographical dislocation with my Active Duty husband.  Through the recommendation of a great ‘98 classmate, my husband interviewed and was hired to be the Aide to the President of Naval Postgraduate School for the last two years of his shore tour, shortening our time apart to only six months.

We took a fix as a family this time. Do we remain on track for going to sea simultaneously or make a career change? I was out of options, so my husband re-filed his flight plan, becoming a Central Command (CENTCOM) Foreign Area Officer (FAO) which allowed for me to go to sea and our kids to be raised by a parent. My Superman independently raised our two toddlers while learning Modern Standard Arabic at the Defense Language Institute. I commuted on weekends when not underway, and we all survived (mostly) unscathed. His payback tour was NAVCENT, so I lobbied the FIFTHFLT Oceanographer to come work for that staff at the completion of my sea tour.

Our two years in Bahrain were good. Long days, but we were able to stagger the workdays.  I went in at 4 am and left at 4 pm; he took the kids to Child Development Center before getting to work at 0730 and departing whenever the workload would allow.  The kids were raised (mostly) by parents, and we were able to get orders together in the National Capital Region with about a 6-month time difference between our arrivals.

After our DC tours, my husband’s community decided that he needed to go to an ‘in-country’ tour.  His fix was gutsy.  He turned down the job, got a field code 17 (FC-17) stamped on his record (there is a silver lining, I promise), and followed me to Hawaii for my command tour.  He worked for the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, aligned with Pacific Command (PACOM).  He was told that working in PACOM as a CENTCOM FAO was the kiss of death, but he already had a FC-17.  His skillset worked extremely well in a region where Islamic Fundamentalism is present and cultures struggle to understand how to coexist.  In fact, he did so well, he was requested to take the O6 position as the Chief of Naval Forces Division, U.S. Military Training Mission to The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in exchange for expunging his record of the FC-17.

I was lucky enough to be selected CAPT while in command, and my husband will have his in-zone look next year.  Although this tour is not geographically collocated, and many people question why we would choose our career over our family, we do not view our choice as one over the other.  Our kids voluntarily vocalize that they are proud of what we do.  They have always had at least one parent with them at all times.  They are always part of our fixes, and to that point I have learned that no waypoint is entirely your own.  You are impacted by the fixes of those taken around you.  For instance, my mother-in-law needs assistance, my oldest son is a ranked swimmer, and my youngest son struggles in school – all of these play into our waypoints.  Change is inevitable.  Adapt and overcome.  You are ready, especially as a graduate of the finest institution.

Twitter Trolls

by Kate McCreery Glynn

“I am Admiral Rob Bauer from Amsterdam Netherlands . . . can I know you?” The admiral had just followed the Sisterhood’s Twitter account, and reached out by direct message (DM).

I’m enough of a skeptic that my next stop was Google. Yup, he exists. Yup, here’s his bio. Yup, he has been part of the UN peace keeping forces as he claims. Seems… Legit?

If you’re a woman on social media, you can probably guess the conflicting thoughts knocking around my skull at that moment. Is this a legitimate request to connect professionally? He had liked a few of the #sisterhood’s posts celebrating the accomplishment of women in uniform. We were here to make connections and spread the word about the #sisterhood—was this an opportunity?

Is this yahoo about to send me a dick pic?

“can i see your picture?”

Dammit. But maybe he’s trying to make sure this account isn’t a bot? Maybe there’s a language barrier and I’m misinterpreting?

I replied with the #sisterhood’s profile picture. I asked how many women serve in the Armed Forces of the Netherlands.

“Why do you want to know?”

Should I have cut communications right then?

According Amnesty International’s Troll Patrol project (1), Twitter is a particularly problematic milieu for women: 7.1% of all messages sent to female accounts are abusive or problematic. The numbers are far worse for female public figures, and particularly women of color. Fully 10% of messages directed African American women come from trolls. African American women are 84%, Asian women 70%, more likely to be subjected to online abuse than their white peers.

When my husband self-published his first novel last year, the advice he got was to mount a robust social media campaign: it’s not an option, marketing professionals explained, it’s a must. Can you imagine a candidate for office not having a presence online, or a nonprofit trying to fundraise without Twitter, Instagram and Facebook?

So too for the Sisterhood of Mother B: raising awareness of military women’s issues and triumphs is part of the mission; social media isn’t an option, it’s a must.

Should I have cut off communication? Yup. This person was not interested in the #sisterhood. He was not interested in making my acquaintance as a fellow member of the sea service. This person was interested in what I look like. Gross. Thankfully, my personal information was never exposed, and I never felt in danger. Just, gross.

Not every woman online is so lucky.

In March 2018, Medium reported that women campaigning to have Jane Austin placed on the British ten pound note were repeatedly subjected to online threats of rape (2). In 2015, feminist activist and author Lindy West wrote an account of confronting a particularly awful troll who established a fake account using her deceased father’s name and likeness to attack her online (3). It’s naïve to think that the threat of violence stays securely in the ‘just pretend’ of cyber space.

A prolific writer and policy badass, our very own Jeanette Gaudry Haynie, was familiar with online trolls by the time she published Why #Metoo Matters For the Marine Corps on Task and Purpose (4). She wasn’t surprised when “eric stratton iii” popped up in the comments section either—this particular troll had had graced comment sections with screed about pretty much everything Netty had published for the past three years. Anonymous, presumably male, commenters bantered back and forth, questioning Netty’s qualifications, and wondering to each other why she hated men, and why she wanted to destroy the Marine Corps. Sadly, pretty standard. But this time, eric Strat iii went further. He “dug up an old CV of mine from my first few years [in my PhD program]… He picked this particular one because it had my home address, cell #, and email address on it… Most afternoons, my oldest got home alone before I came home and let her self in… So that scared the hell out of me.”

So what’s a woman online to do? The advice is often don’t feed the trolls, and just ignore the weirdoes.

Let’s hold on for a just a second (or Wacht even! as our ‘Dutch Admiral’ friend might say).

In some cases, inaction is simply not an option: it took considerable effort before Netty’s personal details were purged from the comments section. But even in my much less severe situation, the instinct to ignore – to turn the other cheek – is problematic.

“i asked for your pic”

With those words, this man was not only confirming that I would be judged by my physical appearance, he was also asserting his right to judge me thus. He isn’t alone in this assertion – not by a long shot. Plenty of men (and women for that matter) feel the God-given right to judge everyone from Serena Williams to Michelle Obama to Sarah Sanders by their looks.

Is the expectation for women to just ignore it? That is firmly rooted in the expectation for women to be nice – to be silent to their own discomfort lest they upset the proverbial applecart and “cause a scene.” I fell into that habit in my interaction with the supposed Dutch Admiral, politely, calmly, trying to steer the conversation back to professional grounds.

So no. I did not ignore it. I did not turn the other cheek. I reported this account, which, upon closer inspection, was clearly not the real Admiral Bauer, and then signed off.

I don’t have answers for what to do about harassment online.
Certainly, it makes sense to enact laws to make trolls and stalkers easier to shut down. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook (and comments moderators on Task and Purpose) should take a more active roll. For sure, men should stop asserting their rights to women’s physical being, and learn to police each other.

I’m still on social media, both in a personal capacity and as the Twitter keeper for the Sisterhood of Mother B. I’m also still trying to figure out how to get in touch with the real Admiral Bauer, to let him know some creep is impersonating him online. . . Be safe out their sisters.

  1. https://decoders.amnesty.org/projects/troll-patrol
  2. https://medium.com/@jamie.bartlett/the-trolling-and-abuse-of-women-rooted-in-online-cultures-667a54d4f88d
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/02/what-happened-confronted-cruellest-troll-lindy-west
  4. https://taskandpurpose.com/metoo-matters-marine-corps?fbclid=IwAR2dMcurlCI28GwEUrp3rnduhbOGZxe_R_hnbCLIycjnV4T9FLlVH5Dj5NE