News: Providers walk to raise awareness of sexual assault
Story by Spc. Michael Camacho
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Soldiers within installations throughout Iraq took part in the first Iraq-wide Sexual Assault Prevention and Response walk, sponsored by United States Forces — Iraq, Feb. 12.
The walk served as an example of the military community's stand against sexual assault in Iraq and in the military, said Sgt. 1st Class Johnnie Mitchell, the equal opportunity adviser and deployed sexual assault response coordinator with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
"It's about awareness for sexual assaults," said Mitchell, a Sylvania, Ga., native. "It lets the predators know that Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines will not accept any sexual assaults in our ranks."
The walk demonstrated the support of the installation communities, both civilian and military, for the prevention of sexual assault and the lasting psychological damage it creates, she said.
Mitchell said every base under USF-I held a walk after sunset, Feb. 12. Base leadership decided on the details and exact time of the event, she said.
Roughly 300 service members and civilians attended the Feb. 12 SAPR walk at Joint Base Balad. The two-mile walk started at Sapper Circle and went around the theater and Morale, Welfare and Recreation center.
Mitchell said the JBB community always responds well and supports such events.
"We can come together when we need to come together, to make a stand and prove a point about something we believe in," she said.
Since arriving in Iraq, the 13th ESC has held three SAPR walks at JBB to raise awareness about sexual assault prevention, taking a strong stance against the problem, said Mitchell.
"As leaders, we're talking about preventive measures and this was something different," she said. "We're doing a walk and we're doing it at night time, because most sexual assaults take place during the night time."
Master Sgt. Rita Cossio, the previous DSARC with the 13th ESC, started the walks, said Mitchell. USF-I noticed their success and subsequently decided to host the theater-wide walk, she said.
In addition to the walks, DSARCs train Soldiers to be unit victim advocates, said Mitchell. Instructors go to bases and speak to Soldiers about the importance of sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention. The emphasis of this training is to ensure leaders know that their Soldiers understand what is right or wrong, she said.
USF-I did not require Airmen to attend the SAPR walk, said Capt. Alicia Thompson, a SARC with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing and a Milwaukee native. She coordinated with Mitchell to involve Airmen at JBB and Air Base Ali, Iraq, to send a military-wide prevention message.
"We want to stop it. It's not allowed in our military," she said.
Service members of all branches volunteered to support the walk, and Airmen acted as volunteer road guards to manage traffic, said Thompson.
Mitchell said attendance showed the military's dedication to eliminating sexual assault.
"As leaders, we need to push it down to Soldiers that sexual assault will not be tolerated," she said. "It is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It degrades the Army mission; it degrades the Army values, the warrior ethos. It's something Soldiers need to understand, that we will not tolerate this within our ranks."