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    I’m a Survivor, not a Victim

    I’m a Survivor, not a Victim

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class John Brown | Spc. Brittany Leitner, a patient administration specialist with 18th Medical Command...... read more read more

    FORT SHAFTER, HI, UNITED STATES

    04.05.2016

    Story by Sgt. 1st Class John Brown 

    18th Medical Command (Deployment Support)

    Standing alone, in front of an auditorium filled with male and female Soldiers, no one making a sound, no one playing on their cell phones, all attention focused on the young female Soldier standing in the front of the room.

    “I was attacked, but I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor,” says Spc. Brittany Leitner, a patient administration specialist with 18th Medical Command (Deployment Support).

    For nearly an hour, the audience sat in silence as Leitner shared her story. For many, the story was hard to hear; for others, it was an opportunity to put a name and a face to the Army’s campaign to end sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.

    Leitner is like most young Soldiers. A self-proclaimed military brat, Leitner bounced around from base to base following her mother, a Navy veteran, and her Step-Father, a career Army officer, before graduating from Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Wa.

    Roughly a year after graduating high school, Leitner decided to follow her parents example and join the military.

    After attending Army basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Leitner was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, where she immediately started preparing for deployment.

    Her unit deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in June, 2011, and returned in May, 2012.

    Like most of her fellow Soldiers, Leitner worked hard to fit in with her unit, but within three months following the deployment, her life would change forever.

    “After it happened, I really didn’t believe that it had happened. My NCO (noncommissioned officer) had to tell me like a million times before it finally registered,” said Leitner.

    “I was more upset about being a statistic . . . It was knowing that I was one of a ton of people that this had happened to in a place where you’re supposed to be the strongest; where you are supposed to be able to take care of yourself,” said Leitner.

    This is where her next struggle began. Leitner was afraid that she would be treated differently if people knew she was sexually assaulted and she says that was exactly what happened when other members of her unit found out about the assault.

    It wasn’t until Leitner transferred to her current unit in Hawaii that she was able to get away from the glances and stares, the well meaning friends asking her if she was ok, and the daily reminders of that moment in time; but that wasn’t a cure.

    Leitner says that she felt like she was walking around with a giant bubble inside that was waiting to burst when the Soldiers in her new unit found out her secret.

    “I struggled really hard trying to hide it, and then I met someone who was talking about her experience,” said Leitner.

    At this point in her life, Leitner was willing to do anything to help cope with the swarm of emotions that were swelling inside, even if that meant telling a room full of strangers about the worst day of her life.

    “I so wasn’t ready for it and it went horribly wrong, but I needed it; speaking to people became my therapy,” said Leitner.

    For Leitner, talking about her experience wasn’t easy, “I would come in extremely afraid; I didn’t know what their reaction would be; I didn’t know if they would be able to look me in the eyes, but I started getting standing ovations and it was shocking to me at first that people actually cared enough.”

    Leitner says she began to realize the importance of what she was doing when senior NCOs and Officers began taking her aside after her talks and telling her their own stories of being sexually assaulted as young Soldiers, “They couldn’t imagine how I, at 20 something years old, could stand before a battalion full of people and talk about something that happened to me like that.”

    “I started this to help myself, but I realized that continuing to do it was helping a lot more people than myself,” said Leitner.

    Master Sgt. Joseph Collins, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command (AAMDC), said that he first met Leitner when she spoke to the students at a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) course.

    “It kind of made everything feel real; nothing drove it home until you have a survivor stand in front of you and tell you what happened to them and how it effected them and effected their life,” said Collins.

    When Collins became the SARC for the 94th AAMDC, he knew that he wanted to share the same lesson with the rest of his unit.

    Collins said that when Leitner spoke to the unit, “I felt like it was very effective; you can judge it by the way people ask questions, no one was falling asleep, they were paying attention, they were focused on Spc. Leitner and her story.”

    “Afterwards there were leaders that came forward and said ‘that is what we needed to wake our formations up’ because we’ve never had anyone come out and do that,” said Collins.

    Col. Ken Revell, the command chaplain for the 94th AAMDC, said, “I think Leitner brings to light a very volatile challenge, but brings life to it just by her standing in front of the audience and giving us her thought process, but you get to feel how she got where she was because you’re right inside her story and that story plays out. . . it forces us to ask ourselves the hard questions as leaders.”

    “It just made it very real for us. I remember the Sgt. Major said ‘thank you for getting that guy out of our formation’ and that’s a leadership thing that he was saying and at that moment, I think, he was having a big brother moment,” said Revell.

    “It’s hard to measure, but it (Leitner’s talk) has a potentially transformative effect because she’s through the barbed wire, she’s right there, and she’s looking right at us,” said Revell

    After Leitner talks to a unit, a line usually forms to talk to her. Most simply want to shake her hand and thank her for her bravery, while others want to share their personal stories and ask for her contact information, “There are people who want me to speak again to other groups and a few that want my contact information so I can talk to them offline; I usually have at least one survivor come forward who wants to know how they can talk to me at a later time,” said Leitner.

    “It’s really hard not to feel like this was something that I could have prevented; there are a million ‘what if’s’ that go through your mind; but having people accepting me and thanking me for speaking to them has made it better for me,” said Leitner.

    Leitner established an anonymous email address that allows fellow survivors to contact her. The email address is survivors4survivors38@yahoo.com.

    Revell summed it up when he said that Leitner and the other survivors who come forward to share their stories are, “some of the most courageous Soldiers I’ve ever seen in my life.”

    For additional information about the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, go to www.sexualassault.army.mil.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 04.05.2016
    Date Posted: 04.05.2016 20:28
    Story ID: 194475
    Location: FORT SHAFTER, HI, US 
    Hometown: MANOR, TX, US

    Web Views: 617
    Downloads: 1
    Podcast Hits: 0

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