An Open Letter About MST
by Lisa Wright
With all the information finally being put out there through media for all Americans to see, I felt this was the time I could finally open up to the world and share my story. I’d like it to be known that it’s not just numbers but real men and women that are becoming victims of military sexual trauma.
I was called to deploy in 2005 after I had gone through much military training, and I met with an already deployed unit in Iraq. It was a unit of strangers I hadn’t met before, but the camaraderie was unmistakable. They took me in as if I was always a member of their unit. I had a decent deployment, beyond the fact that I was nineteen and away from familiarity, as well as being subjected to live mortar attacks. I came home with mild anxiety and depression but it quickly crept up on me.
I attempted living life like a normal young woman but I became very envious of the other girls my age. By the time I returned from my deployment I was twenty years old and I noticed a difference between myself and others. While the girls I had previously been friends with were extremely happy, they were also full of naivety to what is outside of our little town. I had an increased sense of awareness to certain subjects as well as a keen sense of self-awareness. I turned to drinking to numb what I had inside my head and to make myself feel like others around me. I drank every night that I had a chance to cope but the self-medicating was only temporarily effective. I started working two jobs at a time to keep my mind busy and off of the anxieties I was feeling, and finally I decided to volunteer for a second deployment. This seemed like the only reasonable choice at the time, since my head was still in Iraq.
I was called in 2007 to go on a second deployment, this time with my battalion headquarters. They asked me to start advanced training so I could operate the supply room while the rest of the unit trained. At this time my anxiety had become substantially worse and I had panic attacks that would drain me for hours. I was emotionally exhausted. We had finished advanced training and my unit had come to join us, and by this time our unit commander sent me to see a therapist to get an answer on how to properly care for the anxiety I was feeling. The therapists answer was that I should not be deployed a second time, and I more than agreed; I was not mentally capable of going through it again. He decided that I might be suffering from severe depression, prescribed me an anti-depressant, and decided that I need not be deployed. The only catch was I was on active duty status longer than thirty days so I was not able to go straight home so they would have to send me to a Warrior Transition Unit first and then they would immediately send me home. My PTSD wasn’t recognized as the monster is was and my back pain was mildly addressed.
Shortly after I was flown to Kentucky and sent to the Warrior Transition Unit in Ft. Knox. I wasn’t aware of what I was going to go through there otherwise I probably would have played mentally healthy and physically sound and gone on my deployment. The WTU was just opening its doors two months before I got there, so it was still in the experimental phase. They were working on construction and the daily processes of keeping track of soldiers. I didn’t feel that I was meant to be at this unit, surrounded by other soldiers who were victims of roadside bombs and suffering from severe ailments. I was put in a room in the barracks and told to show up at formation, but other than that there was nothing else that was noted for me to do. I wasn’t given a job or an itinerary, I wasn’t followed up on and told what to do, and I had no answers on when I was going to go home. I met many soldiers who had been there since it opened and they painted a picture of people lost in the military system. I had landed myself a stay at the Island of Misfit Toys.
With the lack of structure came the lack of accountability. There was excess drinking in the barracks and a broad range of free time. The soldiers went out often, so a whole group of soldiers, including myself, decided to reserve a hotel room in downtown Louisville so we could drink and walk to the hotel afterward. A man around my age was the only one besides my roommate who kept their plans. So with it just being the three of us he said he would make the reservations because he was familiar with the area. He was a very nice guy, and he seemed very trusting. He was from Wisconsin so it felt almost like we were spending time with someone from home. He was tall and well put-together. He took great pride in his self-image, tanning regularly, getting manicures and highlights, and not spending time with other rowdy male soldiers at the WTU. He basically seemed to keep to himself. Even with everyone else cancelling plans on us, he said we could still hang out. He talked of plans of going shopping and getting manicures and pedicures. He wanted to get out and get away from all the soldiers for a weekend and just have a nice relaxing time of pampering. To a girl like me, a very feminine girl, this sounded like a perfect weekend.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were brought to our rooms and treated like we were rich. It was a delightful experience. I remember pulling up and having a valet gets our bags out for us and we didn’t even have to park the vehicle. When we got into the room there was only one bed, and he caused a ruckus as if he had no idea it would happen that way and said he insisted we had a room with two beds. To us, he seemed to be homosexual so we weren’t worried and decided it would be okay since there was a couch with a pull-out he or we could sleep on. It was at this point that things started getting strange.
My roommate and I were excited to go out to dance and drink, so we dropped our bags and planned to go out and unpack the next day. We were ready for a good time! He started getting pushy and said we had to put all our things away before we could go anywhere. He began ordering me around, telling me where to put things, and he started calling me pet names, namely one, the thought of which makes me want to vomit today. He became so pushy he told me to put his clothes away in a certain order in the drawers of the dresser. He even ordered me to put the bottle of booze I brought with onto the dresser next to the television. I followed what he said, not really trying to stress about it too much. I thought he may have just been a quirky guy and, to be entirely honest, I was just really looking forward to the weekend away from the barracks feeling like a civilian again.
Once all our personal belongings were put away in random areas of the hotel room, my roomate and I went into the bathroom to freshen up before we went out. I came out of the bathroom and he grabbed me and threw me down on the bed and forced himself on me to kiss me. I tried pushing away but wasn’t able to with his size compared to mine. At this time in my life I was probably 115 pounds, which is small for my five-foot-eight frame. I had already been drinking from the Smirnoff bottle I brought to the hotel room so I felt a little buzz and my rational thinking was already out the door. I tried to brush it off and we went to downtown Louisville. I only remember going to two bars total, one was very dead but had good music. I remember enjoying it. I had taken one shot of liquor in and he wasn’t happy in that bar so he grabbed us and brought us to a much busier and darker bar. It was at this bar that I had a draft beer in a plastic red cup that he purchased for me. I was feeling very drunk from the small amount I drank and he kept offering to hold my beer for me so I could go dance with my roommate. We saw others from our barracks at the bar and were very happy to see them, but they quickly became very watchful over us. The closer those friends got, the more irritated he got. At one time, I remember one of my friends offering to buy me a beer in place of what he had purchased for me already, which seemed like a completely pointless idea to me because I wasn’t putting two and two together that he had possibly done something to my drink.
The last thing I really remember was having the guys from the barracks, along with him, walk me and my roommate back to the hotel. At the corner of the hotel I remember them asking me what I drank and I told them, so they wanted to take me and my roommate back to the barracks but he shouted at them and told them to go and he had us under control, that he’d take care of us. I drank a total of one beer and one shot, and I had a couple drinks of the Smirnoff Ice malt liquor beverage, but I don’t even remember getting to our room.
I woke up the next day in the hotel room with nothing but my tank top from the night before. I wasn’t wearing a bra, I wasn’t wearing panties. I was in the bed with my roommate next to me dressed the same way, awake. I remember her spooning me, like she was trying to protect me. He was in front of me, lying in a white tank top and blue plaid boxers. He noticed I was awake and started to stroke the skin on my inner thigh calling me pet names again and my roommate, who was still behind me, reached her leg over me and kicked him telling him to get off of me. He didn’t stop touching me; he just kept acting like he owned me. I didn’t understand what was happening. I felt very sick and ran to the rest room and couldn’t stop vomiting. I felt my lip, which was fat and bleeding, and noticed my tooth was chipped. He came into the bathroom and shut and locked the door, leaving my roommate in the room by herself. She started banging on the door telling him to keep his hands off of me. He handed me an open bottle of water telling me to drink and I refused, and he rubbed my back and pet my hair like I was a dog, calling me “princess” over and over again, asking me if I liked him sexually and romantically. I told him “no” and explained that I was scared and wanted to go home, and that angered him. To this day the idea of being called “princess” makes me physically ill.
With the terrible feelings and spins I had, I got into the bed again with my roommate and she hugged up to me again, whispering to me that he took her phone and she had sex with him the night before and it was forced. She explained to me that she jumped on his back when he was doing something to me to try to stop him. She kept whispering about what happened the night before, scared, and he came out of the bathroom screaming at us telling us we were all friends and there were no secrets. Anything she could tell me she could tell him, he told her. She told him she was trying to comfort me because I was so sick so he said he was getting dressed to go to see a doctor because he said that he thought I had alcohol poisoning. He said I drank more than anyone he had ever seen and didn’t know how to stop me, like I was just a wild woman. He went back into the bathroom to shower and that was the moment when I hoped I still had a cell phone in my purse and that he didn’t take that, too. God had to have been on our side because it was there. I ran back into the bed and started to text people who were on the base that we were friends with until we got ahold of someone who said they’d drive to Louisville to pick us up.
When he left we got up immediately and started throwing on clothes and packed what we could, but our things were all put away all around the room and it was nearly impossible to get everything. We ran down the hall and almost made it to the elevator when we saw him coming back, so we ran down the stairs and out the front doors of the hotel, crying. Once we got outside we felt freedom. We hid in the parking lot between some cars so he wouldn’t find us, but once we thought we were safe I saw him coming for us and started vomiting. Running behind him, however, were two young employees of the hotel that remembered us coming in the night before. They asked us if we were okay and I cried and told them we were scared of him, and one of the guys escorted him away while another employee sat with us until our ride showed to pick us up safely. We forgot some of our items in the hotel room so before we left my roommate was walked up to the room by one of the guys and our assailant while I waited downstairs; she didn’t want me to go anywhere alone with him after what he had done to me (to this day I don’t know what he did exactly), and he didn’t want us to go to the room without him present.
The people who came to pick us up were the same guys who helped walk us to the hotel room the night before. Unfortunately, the only names I remember are the man who assaulted me and the girl who went through excessive turmoil to save me. I tried for years to suppress what had happened, but the nightmares never go away.
My roommate and I were dropped off at a different hotel room right outside of the base. She wasn’t ready to go back and wanted to explain to me what exactly happened. They dropped us off and said if we needed anything to call. It took me days to feel not hung over and normal again after the incident. As soon as we got into the room she had a breakdown and started crying. I didn’t know what to do so I set up a bath and she and I both got in and talked about what happened. This was all I could think of doing. She said that when we got back to the room he laid me down on the bed because I must have blacked out on the way up to there. She curled up and went to bed, but when she woke up he had removed my clothing and was lying on top of me and I was crying, my eyes closed, so listless I wasn’t able to stop anything. She said he was raping me so she jumped on his back to get him off of me. He threw her down and went back to what he was doing so she said she wrestled with him some more until she ended up having sex with him. The way I have always understood it and the way she always had explained it was that it began as forceful but she quit fighting in order to keep him from touching and harming me because I wasn’t able to fight for myself. It was because of this that she was scared to report anything because she said they would say it was consensual because she quit fighting him to protect me.
It wasn’t until my roommate tried jumping out of a car on the freeway on our way downtown one night that I decided to take a stand and say something to our chain of command. We were driving 75 miles per hour and she and I were in the back seat of our friend’s car, having a girls’ night. She opened her door and hung out of the car and I had to grab onto her and hold onto her for dear life until we were able to slow down and pull over. If I hadn’t held onto her tight enough she could have died. I tried to save her the way she tried to save me, but she was beyond that point. All she kept yelling and crying was “I want to die! Let me die!” It was three weeks after the assault, and we had to see him almost every day. We stopped going to formations and nobody noticed. The NCOIC said that it had been too long for him to really do anything so he didn’t make much ado about anything. It wasn’t until after the devastating death of a young male soldier in our barracks that went unnoticed for days that anything changed.
When it was finally brought to the attention of the Military Police, we were brought in to be questioned. I was asked questions that I didn’t believe to be consistent with what we had reported. They asked me how many sexual partners I had, how old I was when I started having sex, if I had any sexually transmitted diseases or infections or if I had any in the past. I went through an entire rundown of my sexual history; they started treating me like I was a sexually deviant criminal. They told me I was too pretty to be in the Army, that I wore make-up and pretty clothes so I was asking for the attention. They said I drank so it was like giving permission to do whatever he wanted. I was slut-shamed for being pretty and not a virgin. I “allowed” the thing to happen because I put on mascara. I “allowed” the thing to happen because I smiled. I “allowed” the thing to happen because I had an anatomical makeup predetermined at birth. I felt worthless and pathetic. They treated me like I was a worthless woman. The military had brought me up and made me feel great about myself, and now they were making me feel like I was nothing.
It wasn’t until I made it home and made a very strong attempt at moving on with my life that I received a phone call from an attorney at Ft. Knox. I was living with my ex-husband, pregnant with my first son, trying to move forward with my life. I went through a telephone pre-trial and almost exactly a year after my assault, seven months pregnant with my son, I was flown down to Ft. Knox to testify in person. This experience was even more terrifying than anything else I had ever experienced…it was even more terrifying than being deployed at nineteen years old. I had to face my attacker pregnant and alone in a military courtroom. They put us in a hotel room in Elizabethtown and he was held on base.
I didn’t know and don’t know much to this day of what happened. I know while I was awake I remember him touching me all over my body, breasts, legs, butt, thighs and inner thighs, and I know that when I woke up I was extremely sore in the pelvic region. I have nightmares still today that feel like flashbacks of the night, and I still feel my heart jump when I see someone who looks like him. I know that all of the people who were around the WTU to witness anything were there to testify. We had about fifteen people to testify against him, including a young girl who was raped by him in his hometown in the same manner he had me. The men who were employed by the hotel testified what they saw, and they also shared information that he had crushed pill powder and empty bottles next to my Smirnoff bottle in the hotel room. There were guys from the base who testified that he admitted to forcing himself on to me to have sex with me but I blacked out and he still did even though I was not conscious. I also know that we had a few days of trial and in the end they found him NOT GUILTY on the charges. I went through all I had gone through, testified pregnant with my son, and in the end I didn’t find the comfort I needed to feel safe again. They flew me back to Iron River and I tried to finish my pregnancy peacefully.
In 2011 I was called again to testify about what happened to me because he struck again, raping several more women at Ft. Knox. I agreed but was never called back to testify. It wasn’t until I went online to research military sexual trauma for the degree I am pursuing that my curiosity was piqued and I searched for “SPC ‘His Name’ Ft. Knox rape” and found a tiny portion of information that stated that in 2011 he was found guilty of rape and forcible sodomy.
If I could find out the names of all the people who had worked so hard to free my mind of what happened I would thank them, but what happened has emptied everything from me. I’m still scared that one day he will come to find me, and I’m afraid of him doing what he did to me again or even worse. I’m afraid for the women who have experienced this or something similar, and I wish they knew to report it when it first happens. It is a truly terrifying experience, one that takes everything out of you and makes you feel like you’re nothing. It’s like standing on the highest mountain in the universe with nobody around you, screaming for help and not being able to scream because your voice box won’t allow it…you feel alone, devastated, and terrified every day. Everything reminds you of the trauma you endured and I’m not sure, even today, if I’ll ever get over it. He’s in prison now, and if I’m correct he will be out in six years. I have six years of peace, even if it isn’t time served for what he did to me and my roommate.
I hope this story helps you understand a personal perspective of MST. I’m not just a statistic; I’m a woman, a mother, a wife, a college student, an employee, a veteran. I’ve made it to a better point in life. What he did to me has driven me to succeed, to find employment helping men and women who have suffered, and to become something to be proud of and not be a victim of what he had done to me.
Thank you for your time.
A Woman Veteran
Lisa Wright, a Top 25 Finalist in the 2015 Ms Veteran America competition, is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who served in the Army for six years. She is happily married to her best friend, Greg, and they have two little boys, Cash and Jaxson. Lisa enjoys writing non-fiction essays, poetry, and dystopian shorts.