CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – According to the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States will be raped during their lifetime. April is designated as the National Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness Month, and as part of that, the Camp Arifjan Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program has coordinated a variety of events throughout the month to highlight and combat this issue.
As part of this effort, John McCraw, a staff sergeant and SHARP victim advocate for U.S. Army Central Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, and a group of volunteers from different martial arts, combatives and self defense backgrounds have organized twice weekly self defense courses for service members.
In the crowded tent gymnasium, only one student has showed up for the class this evening, but rather than being discouraged, McCraw is realistic and pleased with the opportunity to work with the Soldier. He explained that, at first, many people are afraid to look foolish or admit they might need self defense skills, but if this training helps even one person avoid being a statistic – he feels it is worth his time.
“I want to keep people safe, and that’s much easier if they know the basics [of self defense]. Like how to escape from a confrontation or keep it from escalating,” said McCraw. “We teach situational awareness; how to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you are vulnerable and to always trust your gut.”
While working with Spc. Laura Micthell, a transportation specialist with the 869th Movement Control Team, an Army Reserve unit from Ohio, he walks her through a few common scenarios. He builds from the most basic of responses, the block, and transitions into immobilizing strike zones. He stresses that the idea is to immobilize and escape, never escalate the fight. He offers little tips, like “elbows are your best friend,” and adjusts her form when she is confused by a movement.
The other volunteers offer different techniques from their personal experiences and fighting styles, but the goal is to help her develop a comfort level with what works best for her and to practice responding until it becomes muscle memory.
“You don’t have to be a black belt in martial arts. It’s really about coming here a couple nights and learning these simple steps,” said McCraw.
For Mitchell the training is about building her confidence and readying herself for a worst case scenario.
“I just don’t want to be a victim. I’d rather be prepared,” said Mitchell. “Even though I was learning moves and techniques that were completely new to me, I was surprised how easy they were. I know I am going to be more ready to handle someone entering my personal space than I was before tonight.”
Mitchell said that she would continue to attend the classes and would recommend it to many of the Soldiers in her unit. She credited the instructors for being knowledgeable and helpful and said that overall the experience was very positive and a worthwhile investment of her time.
Or as McCraw explained it, “It’s your body: learn how to protect it.”
The self defense classes will be Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the month of April at the Zone 6 Cross Fit Gym. For additional information or assistance contact your unit SHARP representative or USARCENT’s SHARP office at DSN 318-430-3453