My Untold Story, Till Today
My name is Jackie Baum. I joined the U.S. Army in July of 1988 and served in the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons Division. After AIT, I was assigned to a chemical decontamination unit in Texas. From the moment I arrived at that unit, the E-8 who ran our unit as a full-time reservist, began making inappropriate remarks to me. My only method of dealing with his comments was to pretend that I didn’t hear him. Deflect and avoid. There was no one to report him to because reserve units are typically empty all month. Long story short, he tried to put his arm around me one day, and me employing the “avoid” tactic, slipped and broke my wrist and thumb. Naturally, he came up with the story that we were going to tell the ER doctors. I agree to lie so long as he never put his grubby old man hands on me ever again. That’s my “line of duty” injury. It really is classified that way.
Several months later, while traveling back to our unit from a two-week FTX, I suffered a much worse fate. I’ve never shared the details of that night with anyone; a doctor, a family member, or a friend, and I never will. I commend rape victims who can do that. I prefer not to share that visual with anyone. It is however, necessary to tell you how it happened, the beliefs that I developed about myself, the military, and what my life became afterwards.
My unit, along with several others, stopped for a night at a reserve unit in Bryan College Station, Texas. My buddy and I had finished a 2:30 a.m. fire guard duty and went back to the barracks where the other women were sleeping. The door had been locked from the inside, so we decided not to wake the others up since we were all heading out 5:00 a.m. We decided to lie down on the floor in the hallway outside of the door. I was uncomfortable, the fluorescent lights were so bright, and my buddy snored unbelievably loud, so I got up and wandered down the hall. At the end of another hallway, all the overhead lights were off and there was a table at the end of the hall. I got up on the table and fell asleep.
When opened my eyes again, there was a strange man on top of me. I couldn’t scream because his hand was covering my mouth and nose. I couldn’t breath and I couldn’t put up much of fight with an arm that had atrophied in a cast for 10 weeks. I tried but it was useless, and I clearly remember telling myself to stop struggling and let it be over. As he was leaving he said that if I told anyone, I would find out what the words “training accident” meant. I waited about 30 minutes just to be sure he was gone and then I woke up the captain. When they asked me who it was I told them I didn’t know and that I had never seen the guy before. He wasn’t one of my guys. They woke up about 75 men and I pointed to him. They huddled and looked back at me and asked me several times if I was absolutely sure. I would come to find out that he was the lieutenant’s “boy.” Later that day when we finally returned to our unit in Houston, I had to file a report. I had to file that report with the same grubby old man who I broke my arm with. Once again, he told me how I was going to write my statement. Several of the men in my unit gave statements saying that this guy had been saying all kinds of things about me in the weeks leading up to that night which disprove the current President’s claim that “locker room” talk is harmless.
In the end, he was transferred to a unit in another state. I was told that it was my word against his and that he was a good soldier with an impeccable service record, a young wife, and new born baby. They had the audacity to say, “Thank you for your inquiry.” My love of the military and my enthusiasm were very short lived. How I ended up with an honorable discharge I’ll never know because my existence was rather ghost like. Each year for 4 years after I broke my wrist I had to have another surgery so medically I couldn’t participate. I was on a medical hold during the Gulf War. My unit deployed to Kuwait in September of 1990 and returned in April of 1991. The most unfortunate part for me was that I had developed an addiction to opiates in my early 20’s which would plague my life for the next three decades.
In 1997, it was that broken wrist which I got a service connection for and that was what brought me to the VA. My case was reopened because of the Army Sex Scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Ultimately, the two soldiers who came from CID told me that the statute of limitations had run on criminal prosecution of both men but that I was entitled to medical care and mental health services at the VA. I hadn’t spoken about the things that happened in the army in 9 years and when I was asked to do so by a psychologist, I had a really bad experience. I couldn’t speak at all. I started shaking and sweating uncontrollably. I got up and left the office but got stopped at the exit of the hospital by VAPD. I was involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward and put on drugs like Thorazine and Valium simply for having that reaction. That has happened so many times over the last 21 years in VA hospitals from New Orleans to Los Angeles. I’ve honestly lost count. I’m one of those veterans whose trauma can’t be relieved by cognitive processing therapy and I told my last psychologist and psychotherapist this in 2016 but by then I was court order into an inpatient program for a year, so I had no choice but to endure it again only to achieve the exact same result as all of the other times: VAPD and an involuntary psychiatric hold.
I wish that I could tell you that I learned some useful coping skills during those 21 years of participating in “one on one” and group therapy sessions. It’s hard for me to sit in groups and hear other women tell their stories. I take no comfort in the fact that I’m not alone and that there are so many women that this happens to. None of the thirty different anti-depressants or anti-psychotics were able to minimize how I felt about myself or what happened. My trust can never be restored. I assess all people as a potential threat. My sleep is forever disturbed. Closing my eyes at night changed after that night. The nightmares that I have are even more twisted and grotesque than the event itself. What I’ve learned is that my fate was my fate and accepting it makes me okay with it. The last labels I ever wanted the world to assign to me were “victim” and “survivor.” But that’s what I am, and I have no choice but to live with it and make the best of it.
Not a day ever goes by where I don’t have think about it. All I can do is change how I react to the uncomfortableness. I am better able to identify those feelings today and I know how dangerous they can be. It took me a long time to understand that sitting through it and “feeling” it was the best thing to do as opposed to taking medications or drinking and using other drugs. Surrounding myself with friends and family members who now know and understand my situation is equally important. Until 2016, I never told anyone other than a VA healthcare professional about what had happened to me in 1989. Staying silent and keeping all of that inside was what was destroying me. Once I started talking about it with my friends privately and then eventually on social media, I started feeling better. I went to ABC7 News with my story and that has led me here. My hope is to create more public awareness of MST and the lifelong harm it causes. My hope is that military justice will one day actually mean justice for the victims and punishment for the perpetrators.
“…and the crooked places will be made straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope.” – Rev. Martin Luther King.
posted- June 10,2018