News: 'The Only Acceptable Number is Zero'
Story by Senior Airman Victoria Greenia
SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. - Nearly every lamp post on the Vermont Air National Guard base this April drill had a large teal ribbon, a prominent reminder that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. As the military comes under closer scrutiny from critics, the Department of Defense has responded by providing more training for service members about sexual harassment and assault. The documentary “The Invisible War” that highlights the plight of sexual assault victims in the military played four times over drill, giving opportunity for every Airman to see it.
“The movie powerfully illuminates an issue that everyone in the military should know about,” Col. David Baczewski, the VTANG wing commander, said. “In cases of sexual assaults I do not only hold the perpetrator accountable; I hold everyone who knew what was happening and didn’t do anything about it accountable.”
It is not just a problem between two people, the commander emphasized. If one person feels devalued or victimized, that affects the whole team and the mission, so it’s everyone’s job to intervene when they see something wrong.
A picture of a pair of military boots surrounded by about a dozen teal-colored military boots creates visualization to Baczewski’s sentiments. At the top are the words, “Where do you stand?” which ask airmen to consider whether they are being supportive wingmen or part of the problem. Also, the brightly colored boots were displayed on the window sills of the Green Mountain Inn Dining Facility.
Baczewski acknowledged this is not a problem that can be solved within a month. Though a priority, he is not content to simply ensure that sexual assault issues are resolved quickly and with compassion. Also at the top of his list is working with VTANG leadership to cultivate what he describes as a “culture of respect” on base.
“I don’t want to wait for large, tragic issues to happen,” Baczewski said. “Some of these issues can be nipped before they grow if we have a base where each airman knows he or she is valued.”
Ideally, he wants each airman to feel at ease letting co-workers know if their conversations make him or her uncomfortable. That type of a respectful atmosphere would make it harder for more serious problems to thrive in.
“This is a human rights issue and not only a problem here in the military,” Baczewski said. “I expect every one of my Airmen to be vigilant, on base and at home. The training we do here is something all Airmen can take into their civilian life. The only acceptable number of sexual assault occurrences– anywhere- is zero.”