Commentary: Stopping sexual assault – not just in April

TECH SGT. ANDY M. KIN/U.S. Air Force
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, visits Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., for an all-call where he spoke with hundreds of Airmen conveying his strategic messages on March 17. Wright took questions from a dozen Airmen ranging from policy to quality of life.
By KALETH O. WRIGHT
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force
April 13, 2017

WASHINGTON — The truth is, the vast majority of Airmen we serve alongside have never – and will never – sexually assault another person in their lifetime. Let me say it again for the people in the back – the vast majority of our Airmen HAVE NEVER and WILL NEVER harm another person. Hard stop. 

But the ability and the responsibility to stop sexual assault does not begin and end here. Every survivor, and every Airman who has ever served in a unit impacted by these acts, can tell you first hand it has the same effects as a natural disaster. It’s very real, very devastating and leaves a trail of total destruction in its wake. 

Airmen are the heart of our Air Force. With Airmen, the mission will never fail; without them, the mission will not succeed. And sexual assault deeply and severely impacts our ability to perform the mission. 

Every Airman, on their own or together in a group, has the ability to stop this behavior in its tracks. April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, but putting an end to this devastation within our ranks requires each of us to be engaged, every day, all year round. 

Every Airman who demands professionalism in their workplace and in their unit, who insists their fellow Airmen treat each other with dignity and respect, and who enforces professionalism through their words and their deeds is taking action to eliminate assault. Every Airman who embodies our core values every day, on and off duty, in and out of uniform, is supporting a survivor, whether they realize it or not. 

Our Airmen are the best the world has ever seen. They’re the best at what they do – from fighting fires to calling in air strikes to defending our bases. Our Airmen are also our best asset for stopping a sexual assault before it happens. Their professionalism and dedication is what generates airpower and allows us to fly, flight and win. That same dedication, when applied to taking care of their fellow Airmen, is what will eliminate these damaging behaviors from our ranks. 

People sometimes define integrity as “doing what’s right when no one is looking.” Integrity is also doing what’s right when EVERYONE is looking. Understanding how to recognize opportunities for intervention is what stops unsafe or unacceptable behaviors. That can be learned, and it’s fairly easy. Speaking up when no one else has – that’s the hard part. 

But I promise you, when a situation arises that just doesn’t “feel right” or when someone isn’t doing what’s right, there are other Airmen hoping someone will speak up. That someone is you. Your fellow Airmen are looking to you to have the courage to speak up, to do the right thing when no one else will. 

The vast majority of Airmen will never sexually assault another person. But EVERY Airman can be the one to make sure it never happens within our ranks. Today, tomorrow and every day. I’m counting on you – and the Airmen to your left and right are counting on you – to be the one who puts an end to sexual assault in OUR Air Force. I have your back in this fight and I’m asking you to have mine … not just in April.

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