GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE,Texas --
Last night I went to the Guys Night Out, an annual Sexual Assault Prevention and Response event for males on base.
The majority of the participants were students, although I recognized some permanent party. As I passed them by, we smiled and waved hello.
The sound of hip hop and conversations spilled through the doors like sunlight through a window. As I was greeted by Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, I scanned the room. Tables were set up throughout the room, each with a different purpose. Many had games that the participants played, some with pamphlets and billboards of information, others with modest SAPR gifts like t-shirts and small gift bags.
The thing that surprised me the most was how relaxed the crowd was. For me, sexual assault wasn’t a comfortable topic of conversation. Yet, the crowd, which was a majority of guys, seemed to be completely comfortable, friendly and open to one another.
There came a time when the games were “on pause” and it was time for discussion. All the females were politely excused from the room and Army Capt. Jeremy Dillard, 344th Military Intelligence Battalion Alpha Company Commander, began with a story about resiliency and how even tragedies can help build resiliency.
“The person to your left and right, that is your battle buddy,” said Dillard. “Depend on each other because some days that’s all you have.”
Much to my surprise, one of the speakers who came up was Col. Michael Grunwald Jr, 17th Training Group Commander. He told his story and explained to the crowd how much the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program has made such a positive change for the first time since the beginning of his career.
“We as an Air Force have come a long way,” said Grunwald. “If you are a survivor, if you are a victim, then ask for help. It can help, it can work for you. Don’t take it on your own shoulders; it’s bigger than you are. You may not recognize it at the time, but you need the help.”
The heaviness of the conversation was felt throughout the room. The bustle of people and conversations that flooded the halls in the beginning of the event were muted under the heaviness of each speakers’ stories.
As I looked around the room I couldn’t help but notice the solemn faces of the males in the room. They never broke composure. They remained resilient under it all, even those who felt the pain of understanding others experiences.
As solemn and respectful as the males were, the time for speaking came to an end. The festivities and games continued for the rest of the event, smiles and conversations beginning where they left off before.