GEILENKIRCHEN NATO AIR BASE, Germany --
Every sexual assault allegation is unique and has the potential to involve multiple agencies and leadership levels. The 470th Air Base Squadron legal team from Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base held a workshop, Nov. 27 2017, to answer the question, “what can we do?”, and provide a thorough overview of sexual assault case processing, outlining who does what, where, when, and how.
“It’s important for commanders, first sergeants, and leaders to understand the process when they have an allegation of sexual assault involving one of their Airmen,” said Maj. Tom McNab, 470th ABS staff judge advocate. “We want to prepare them up front so they know what to do and what they might face if something like this happens.”
The innovative workshop kicked off with remarks from Maj. Gen. Dawn Dunlop, NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force component commander, who offered a senior leader perspective on sexual assault and showed support for the workshop, stating she is, “excited to be a part of this initiative.” The workshop then separated into two groups, each facilitated by a member of the special victims counsel, who made the trip to Geilenkirchen from Ramstein Air Base. The SVC helps guide sexual assault victims through the complications of the legal system much like the judge advocate general helps with legal proceeding.
“We acted as a kind of legal advisor to help commanders understand what victims go through and what resources are available, including our office,” said Capt. Amos Gregory, SVC. “I think this workshop will help them better serve those victims in the future.”
Commanders from squadron level, all the way to group level attended and participated in the workshop.
“Any time you can get together and really talk about a hard subject, like sexual assault, in a collegial environment is extremely useful,” said Col. Michael Mote, NATO AWACS Air Force Element group commander. “We had all the right players; SVCs, staff judge advocates, the ADC, victim advocates, and we also had the leadership teams here. It was the perfect environment for getting after the issue.”
The workshop encouraged each member to participate as both an expert in their field and as a student, learning from other leadership levels and agencies.
“This is the first time we’ve sat in a forum like this, with all these different agencies, to discuss this topic,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth Marshall, 470th ABS commander. “It’s a great opportunity whenever we get to sit around the table with our other brothers and sisters in arms, and that includes our civilians as well. I think every one of us learned something new today.”
Along with leadership and SVCs, the two groups contained representatives from the Area Defense Counsel and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response victim advocates. The open forums included case studies and facilitated conversation between the various leaders and agencies. The members openly discussed and answered questions about their individual roles and responsibilities when taking care of Airmen involved in a sexual assault allegation.
“The discussions were the highlight of the workshop for me,” said Staff Sgt. Dustin Nuss, SARC victim advocate. “I really got to see how the different commanders viewed things and we also had the opportunity to answer questions they had and explain how we provide support for the victim regardless of what’s happening throughout the legal process.”
By the end of the workshop, the answer to the initial question, “what can we do?” was clear.
“My answer to the theme of the workshop, ‘what can we do?’ is preparation,” McNab said. “You’re never going to be 100 percent prepared because you can’t prepare for every scenario. However, now they have some practical practice so it’s not a first time event if they have an allegation in their unit.”
McNab aims for the workshop to become an evolving yearly training opportunity.
“We’re not going to do the same program every year,” McNab said. “This year was intended to be a working discussion with groups, next year we may go into more of a presentation on the law as it stands. Overall, I’m excited to receive feedback and we always aim to make any educational opportunity better.”