Veterans on SA Training in the Military: Lorelei Vandergriend (Part 2)
Lorelei Vandergriend served in the US navy for six years, switching between the USS George HW Bush CVN 77 and Yokota Air Base between 2012-2017. Lorelei was kind enough to answer our questions on the Sexual Assault (SA) training she received while in the military, as well as offer her opinion on TUJ’s recent efforts in SA awareness.
Where did you serve and for how long?
I served in the US Navy for a total of 6 years. After finishing bootcamp, I went to "A" school for 6 months to train as a Mass Communication Specialist. My first command (base/workplace) I was assigned to was the USS George HW Bush CVN 77 from May 2012-2015. The ship had just returned from its first deployment a few months earlier.
I remember my first day there. I met two coworkers who kept bragging about binge drinking the whole weekend and how during deployment, they slept with so many prostitutes. Not every male sailor is vulgar to that degree; but it's prevalent. From May 2015 to 2017 I worked on the Yokota Air base and because of the different places my job was able to work, I was one of the few Navy on that base. I loved it there. Everyone's so happy compared to sailors.
What kind of sexual assault prevention training did you receive and how much did you retain?
On the ship, we'd gather around a monitor with a PowerPoint slide and listen to someone boring talk for a couple hours. Death by Powerpoint. Sometimes, they would have a whole certain rank gather in the hangar bay to watch a couple of skits to show examples of what was, or wasn't sexual assault. These skits were on video by the way, shown on the hangar walls by a projector.
Every few months, we had to go on the Navy eLearning website to go through more slides in our own time. Then, we had to complete a quiz at the end. You had to have 80%, or else try again with the 999 tries that were available. Sometimes, we shared the answers quietly so we could get it over with.
No one liked doing it. We knew [SA] happened to people but it wasn't talked about. I remember who the resources were, and what was an unrestricted report and a restricted report. But many were uncomfortable with going through an investigation because everyone in the chain of command found out, and even if they’re older or a higher rank, they can gossip about it. They encouraged reporting it even if it was restricted because then, they could gather data.
It's unfortunate that I was sexually assaulted before I even knew what it was and never reported it. Honestly, even if I did, everyone liked that guy so nothing would have happened. Ironically, during the training, they also encouraged reporting and [said] that retaliation from chain of command or the accused and their friends was illegal, but that's what everyone was still afraid of. You can't stop retaliation or ostracization; especially if it's perpetrated by the chain of command. They're experts at being friends with other higher enlisted ranks and officer ranks, and they'll make your life hell. For less reasons, I was spied on constantly and harrassed by others who were friends with someone who didn't like my hair. Such great lengths for petty reasons.
How often did you receive SA training?
We had SA training about every 6 months... I think. It came with alcohol abuse training as well.
In what capacity did you receive this training? i.e. were you alone, in a group, and if so, what kind of group? Mixed gender, small, large, divided by rank, or something else?
I explained a little bit, but it was all genders in one room. No segregation at all, but rank was definitely separated. The lowest ranks from E-1 to E-4 would have it together. E-5 were considered the leaders of the lowest level so they would join the E-6. From E-7 to E-9 are chiefs, and I have no idea how they went about it. If it were up to the departments to train, then all the ranks would be in their workspaces together for training. If it was in the hangar bay, they did it by rank and by time slots. But again from E-7 above, I never saw what they did for those days, so I can't say.
How helpful do you think the training was for you personally? How about for your peers?
When I was sexually assaulted a second time, I was terrified and couldn't remember what to do and was too scared to ask any coworker I trusted. But I did know a coworker who had already left for another command and had experienced this before. The whole reason why she worked on my ship at all, was because of that. Her prior command made her leave instead of kicking the assaulter out of the Navy. So I asked her what to do.
Come that Monday, I still didn't decide if I wanted an unrestricted or restricted report. When I had a breakdown, one of my two close friends helped me to one of the Christian pastors on the ship. That's an actual job in the Navy. They're bound by confidentiality so I was able to talk about what happened and he gave me the info of who I could see on the ship to report it. I went to the NCIS agent onboard and I had mistakenly thought that I could do an unrestricted report while doing an investigation, but I was terrified I would get in trouble for texting my friend about it. So before, I gave him my phone so that he could copy all the information on it, and I deleted the text messages.
Anyways, that guy had recommended me a special advisor. I can't remember what they’re called (something victim, but they preferred survivor). I was assigned to a wonderful woman who's secondary duty was to counsel and be a trusted person for a sexual assault survivor. So I'm really grateful that my ship had that program.
The training wasn't that helpful. I had to find out through a breadcrumb trail how to find the right people to talk to. I was a mess. I was worried that if I talked about it to my friends, I would be in trouble. After my two close friends left, there was no one special left for me to talk to besides the pastors or my counselor. No one I knew who would care about me on a personal level.
What do you think could have been improved on in the training the military gave you when you were an officer? (This could be for your personal benefit, or the benefit of others based on your observation of their opinions and retention).
My rank was E-4, Petty Officer 3rd class, but we don't call ourselves officers. We're 3rd classes. I think separating it by gender would help. And the training was always focused on the victim, but never how NOT to be a sexual predator whether unintentionally or not. So I think being aware that it's not just one person's problem and addressing deviant behavior would also help. Learning how to take a “no;” how to read the unsaid signs of "no" and such.
Currently, TUJ is promoting assault and harassment awareness in multiple ways. Does the training you received align with what TUJ is currently promoting? Do you think the way TUJ is addressing sexual assault is helpful for the student body?
I've read [the posters] in the bathroom stalls. I think the faculty are at fault. Last summer in my Elements II Japanese class, there was a guy who is still here, who said inappropriate things in both Japanese and English to the teacher and to this one girl in our class. It was disgusting. Half of the class took the time at the end of the semester to report him. He's been reported before but you know what he said?
"It's 2018 and I'm gonna do what I want.”
He's still here, taking advantage of the culture that doesn't say "no" outright. Harassing by saying comments like "lick my dick" in Japanese, “come to the bathroom with me,” or "why are you wearing a jacket? You look like you’re at a funeral" when the poor girl had worn a jacket over a crop top because she felt uncomfortable around him. For god's sake, she brought a black leather jacket to class during summer semester. The faculty need to care more about the students and less about the revenue.
TUJ's actions align with the people in charge in the Navy, where not much is done.
I think it's a start and a start is good, but we need more action. Having resources is well appreciated. The attitude of the students towards even the posters is that they think the staff is just trying to show, but not make an effort. I hope that that is wrong. It would be nice to see a safe environment here where people can be comfortable and not worry about who they'll run into in the hallways.
Lorelei typed her own answers, in full to each question Lily sent. Uprizine greatly appreciates her comprehensive and honest answers and reflection. Our editors admire her strength and ability to offer genuine advice for SA training.
Keep an eye out every Monday, for a new installment of this six part series!
Click here to read a little bit more about why we decided to do these interviews.