Sexual Assault: A Supervisor's Story

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Frank Dailey
  • 1st Special Operations Support Squadron
When I arrived at Osan Air Base, South Korea, the wing commander warned everyone in his welcome briefing, "If you commit a sexual assault, I will kill you. Actually, that would be too easy. If you commit a sexual assault, I will prosecute you to the full extent of the law and, rest assured, you will wish you were dead."

While I continued this zero-tolerance stance as superintendent of my flight, the commander's words had a new meaning to me during an experience I never expected would happen.

A year ago, one of my Airmen confided that she had been date-raped by a fellow flight member. The accused had just left on mid-tour, and it was the first time she had felt safe to talk about it.

I prided myself as a participative leader who was actively involved and could spot any problems, but this hit me hard. How could this happen in my flight? Why didn't I put the signs together? Where did I go wrong? 

She believed me when I previously told the flight, "Trust your wingman: if you have had too much to drink, ensure you have a wingman to get you home. Senior leaders, take charge and get the junior members home safe."

The victim trusted in my guidance even when the accused used the same words to take advantage of her and others. When I later found out the accused had assaulted multiple victims, I felt that I had failed the flight.

Fortunately, we had a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator who was there not only for the victims but also for flight leadership who shared their pain. Through our discussions, we realized no matter how hard you work to prevent sexual assault, there will always be those who cross the line.

I truly believe the mistakes we make help us become stronger. If we learn the lessons from these events, we can grow as leaders and wingmen. I want everyone to learn from my mistakes in order to safeguard others and themselves.

Know your people. Learn their likes and dislikes so you can recognize changes in their behavior. Be present to your people and let them know they can trust you. By ensuring you have their trust, they can come to you when they are in trouble.

Communicate with them.
Talk to them about dating and relationships. Always be aware of those who talk about drinking and hooking-up - a recipe for disaster. Be willing to ask tough questions.

Set a good example.
When you are out and see your people, stop and say hello. Remind your Airmen that they don't always need alcohol to have a good time.

Understand your role.
Take part in SARC leadership training and know your responsibilities as a supervisor. You can call your people out on their poor choices and encourage them to make the right ones.

In the end, it is the duty of leadership to support their people. There is a sacred trust that we receive as leaders from these brave Americans who stand beside us during a time of war. We owe it to our nation and ourselves to protect them and develop them into our eventual successors, free from the fear and threat of assault.

I wrote this as a post-script after the investigation was underway. The good news is the victim embraced one of my favorite phrases: "Success is the greatest revenge." She achieved a below-the-zone promotion and moved beyond this episode. The fate of the perpetrator was up to the commander. As a result, that individual no longer holds the privilege of being called an Airman.

As for me, I will do my best to pay attention to my people by being available to them and ensuring they know they can talk to me. It is my hope that my story can help others become better leaders, too.