Military News

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Victim Advocates lend a helping hand

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Sheila deVera
JBER Public Affairs


6/10/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- During a feedback session, he was told to start looking for volunteer opportunities. Soon after, he received an email about a program asking for volunteers; he applied without knowing what he was getting into. Suddenly, the 20-year-old Airman found himself a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response victim advocate.

For the past seven years, Air Force Staff Sgt. Joshua Greene, a 673d Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, has been a victim advocate. Although he hadn't put thought into it, he has never looked back.

"I was 21 when I received my first phone call asking for help," Greene said. "When I answered the phone, the first thing I thought was 'Holy crap! What did I just sign myself into?'"

Greene said during that first call, he was just going through the checklist sounding like a robot.

"I sounded like an ass," he said. "I was not there for them. All I wanted to do was try to get the job done."

His patient told him not to treat him like a technical order. Realizing his mistake, he learned to treat everyone with compassion.

That call changed everything for him.

"Growing up, I was a sheltered little boy living in a bubble," Greene added. "I had no idea what I was doing."

After talking to his mother about the program, the Escondido, California, native found out his mother had been in an abusive relationship. It opened up his eyes to see the darker side of the world.

"I didn't know how close to home [it would hit] until talking to [that] victim," Greene said. "When you hear their story, telling you what happened to them, [it] gets to you. I also have two younger children and it can potentially happen to my family; it scares the crap out of me."

Before he became a family man, he was only worried about himself. In the seven years he has been a VA, he found at anyone can potentially be a victim.

"All the people that I've seen go through this -- there is no color, you can be tall, fat, short, male, or female -- there is no demographic," the father of four said.

As a victim advocate, Greene possesses essential information and resources. His primary role is to serve the needs of sexual assault victims and or survivors for as long as needed.

"Every time that phone rings, I am terrified [about what I am going to say]," Green said. "You try to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, up to the point you hear the person talking on the other line. You are never prepared for the next call. In no way shape or form are they ever the same; it's always been different situations for me."

Greene, along with more than 30 other victim advocates at JBER, is the first line of support for victims of sexual assault. They provide emotional support and information about what to expect, and connect victims to other services while maintaining the victim's confidentiality.

"You are just trying to make sure they are safe, make sure they are where they need to be, and if they need someone to talk to, you are there," Greene said. "We help them get back to their feet."

In his time, Greene said he has seen some of the victims become stronger and watches them slowly build themselves up.

Sometimes, they contact the victim advocate later and provide an update that things are better. "That's really the whole responsibility of the job -- helping them seize control of the past," Greene added.

"You never want to see a silver lining, but I can help and see them get better -- continue to live and not let that person take away what was taken from them. -- Even if [the perpetrator] took a fragment of who they are, they still have everything to look forward to."

Based on what he has seen, he said sexual assault is the worst crime because sometimes there aren't any wounds -- it's only words, feelings, emotions. There is often no evidence of bullet or stab wounds, or photos of the damage done.

"I can never put myself in their shoes because it has never happened to me," Greene said. "I can never say I know how they felt.  The best thing I can do is let them know that no matter what happened, I will be there until they do not need me anymore."

After one of his annual SAPR training briefs at the base theater, one Airman thanked him.

"That's all I ever need, to know that one person's life is better," he said. "If we can help one person's life then we can make a difference at that point. If this base has 41,000 people and if everyone helped one person, then we would have helped 41,000 ... I hope that message gets out there and take away something from it. That's what I hope will happen. I hope that somebody hears or sees what I am doing."

Darmaly Williams, 673d Air Base Wing SAPR program manager, said Greene is a tremendous asset to the SAPR program and has given thousands of man hours to help people understand why the SAPR program exists.

"His passion is tangible," Williams said. "Our office has received many compliments over the years stating the impact Greene made during a class, or [while] addressing an individual's specific questions about the program and its nature."

In fiscal year 2014, there were a total of 6,131 reports of sexual assault in the Department of Defense. The term covers a wide range of misconduct from rape to inappropriate touching of another person with intent to abuse, humiliate or degrade the victim.

Greene added, "I will continue to be a victim advocate because I want [sexual assault] to stop. Will it stop? Probably not. You cannot stop evil and you cannot stop stupid. You many never stop the problem, but we can get darn close and fix a lot of things that are wrong."

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