SARC: Not very puzzling, it’s really straight forward

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- It was a Wednesday night and I had just finished watching the base volleyball championship games between the 702nd Munitions Maintenance Squadron and the 52nd Medical Group. The 52nd MDG won in the best two out of three games series to take the base championship title; Go Saber Medics!

I walked back to the base launderette where I had started my load of clothes to wash before the volleyball game. I placed them in a dryer and settled in for the long wait, taking a seat on the bench and observing my surroundings. The place only had a few customers, one of which was an Airman working on a crossword puzzle from The Saber Herald, April 17 as he waited on his laundry.

Within a few minutes the Airman's laundry was finished and he placed the paper to the side. He removed his clothes from the dryer and quickly left the facility. Now I don't know if the Airman started the crossword or tried to complete one that someone else had started, but I figured I would test my knowledge too. I walked over to the paper and noticed that most of the answers were filled in; I guess they were the easy ones. There were only about 10 questions left. The first unanswered question: "Sexual assault reporting option for active duty?" That was easy I thought; restricted! Then I became alarmed as I started to answer the rest of the puzzle questions. They all were centered on SARC, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, and their training program.

I asked myself, "Has the Air Force failed to properly train one of our newest Airmen?" He was an airman first class I remembered, and very young looking at that. Surely he had SARC training at Basic Military Training and at his technical schools. These were, in fact, easy questions. Did the 52nd Fighter Wing fail to add to that training through the base intro program, First Term Airman Center, annual SARC training and the numerous SARC posters plastered in every work center? Have I as a first sergeant, not done enough to help ensure my Airmen are aware of the numerous sexual assaults that happen and the consequences that follow? Or was this Airman in the mindset that he did not need SARC training because he would never be a victim or perpetrator of a sexual assault? If so, he is sadly mistaken; SARC training is for everyone.

SARC training is for every Airman, from four star general to airman basic. True, this Airman may never be a victim or perpetrator of a sexual assault, but one day he may know someone who is. What does he do if he never took the training to heart and was confronted with a SARC situation? What will he do if a coworker, friend, subordinate or even his supervisor informs him they were sexually assaulted? Will he get them to the right people for help? SARC isn't just a catch phrase. It's real, and knowing what to do will go a long way in helping the victim recover.

Victims of sexual assault have two options if they are sexually assaulted; restricted and unrestricted reporting. Victims can make a restricted report directly to the SARC or an unrestricted report to the SARC, a friend, their supervisor or unit commander. Either way, making sure the assault is reported to SARC is the most important way to ensure the victim gets immediate help. Airmen at all levels need to ensure anyone they know who might have been sexually assaulted report to the SARC, restricted or unrestricted. 

As a first sergeant, I have seen a few unrestricted sexual assault cases, stories of which make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. The details leading up to the assault, the horrifying details of the actual assault and the aftermath and recovery of both the victim and perpetrator, their friends, family and squadron involved have a devastating effect that takes a toll on the unit and its morale. That once bubbly personality of an Airman who smiled and joked during the unit compliance inspection prep and 12-hour days was replaced with a solemn disposition. They were withdrawn, quite often walking with their eyes staring at the ground trying to hide the shame or embarrassment of the assault. The smile or laugh they occasionally let out was fake and purposeful as to try and cast doubt to those who thought something was wrong. 

The recovery process is sometimes long and painful for all involved. Getting the SARC involved early will help in that process. The next time you have SARC training, pay attention because you never know when you will need it.

To the Airman who left the crossword puzzle that Wednesday night in the launderette, here are the answers to your unfinished questions:
4 Across: If you have been sexually assaulted call your? You answered "Boss," I'll give you half credit, SARC is always the best answer here.
6 Across: Before having sex, there must be mutual? Consent.
23 Across: Refusal to believe? Denial.
27 Across: Always go out in pairs and keep an eye on your? Wingmen.
41 Across: Sexual assaults will not be reduced with a "Who ___?" attitude? Cares.
3 Down: Sexual reporting option for active duty? Restricted.
7 Down: Sexual assault victim helpers? Advocates.
20 Down: Illegal substances used to incapacitate? Drugs.
33 Down: Forcibly fondle? Grope. 

Take these answers, and the rest of the crossword puzzle, to heart. We are all first line defenders when it comes to sexual assault.