Renee H. - US Marine, Heavy equipment operator

Updated: Jun 2, 2020

I was in the Marine corps from 1991-1995. My MOS was heavy equipment that entitled things from catching planes, loading planes, setting up refugee camps, and making an RC

I picked the marine corps not because I had admired the marines I knew or was in awe of the men and service. Though the army or air force never came into play, I actually was in college to become a doctor and was looking for help to pay for it. So I went into the Navy recruiter to talk to them about enlisting. However, I can’t even remember what the recruiter said but it pissed me off. I walked out of the office, and walked straight into the Marines office. I said loud enough for the naval recruiter to hear me, sign me up today. He looked at me and said let’s talk first. That is how I joined the Marine corps. My recruiter and his minions helped build this sense of who marines were and respect for the service.

I found being in the fleet to be completely different than the promos and even the stories from other service members. Please understand, not everyone felt this way but the majority of men in the marines at the time felt this way and still do about women marines. I recently spoke to a man who got out of the marines and stated he was told all women marines were a bunch of whores. I guess some mindsets don’t change. My first duty station held those beliefs. The leader in charge said if the marines wanted women we would’ve been issued them, and I’m going to make sure you regret your decision of joining. He was true to his words. I think over my service and see that it was even in the jobs I was sent to. I was the only woman in that unit. I would go to the job and the guys would be where is the guy. I’d say I’m the guy. They would either say we got this or say we’re good. Talk about a dog for being a girl. However, I tried hard to fulfill my job duties.

I’d love to say that it worked out like GI Jane but movies and reality are two different beast. As a woman you are fighting to stay feminine without being seen as a whore and being one of the guys. The two are always in conflict. I can imagine today it has not become any easier. I see these young females posting sexy pics to prove and embrace their feminism, but it’s a two edge sword that then I see them complain about the men making the pics sexual. You can’t have it both ways. I still struggle with telling people I was in the service and which one because of that assumption. There is another reason too that many women before me and during my time don’t talk about.

MST. Military sexual trauma. Rape. It took me twenty years to say it without busting out in tears and shaking uncontrollably. I didn’t understand the why, but as TV mysteries say all would be revealed. I can say it now, but even writing this will result in more flashbacks, night terrors, and being on edge for days. I even put off writing this because it solidifies in my mind how this has effected my life, my military career I wanted, and the last 20 years.

I can say I don’t know the exact month or the exact days of the events. I couldn’t even say the first time it happened before but I’m now remembering the first time and how I was reported for the after effects later. People make assumptions about what a woman was wearing, where they were, how much did they drink, and did they say no. The truth is none of that matters. All that matters was did the woman consent even that comes down to pressure, injury and the situation. Some women chose to not fight back which police say is good but society says that they should. My ptsd therapist said that some women get with a higher rank man to prevent themselves being raped. I agree I did this with getting with my ex husband. I unconsciously did it to protect myself.

The first time was during my MOS school. We had a party, and I ended up being the last person at the party with this other person. He then took advantage of me. I pushed it aside because I wanted to be a good marine and was ashamed that this marine couldn’t defend herself. So, I stuffed it. My roommate however, noticed changes. She told my staff Sargent who said I needed to go to mental health. Like now, mental health would’ve been a mark on my record. So I went to see the therapist. He said I needed to stay and work through it. I said no because I wanted to get on with my career.

I can say that I went on like nothing happened. I can say yes but there were ripples. I had developed an eating disorder. I thought I could handle it. For awhile I did. Until it happened again.

I can tell you exactly what I was wearing. A long shirt and underwear. There was music playing in my barracks room and pitch black because that is how I feel asleep. I was asleep in my rack when I was attacked. I wasn’t out in the club. I wasn’t at work. I wasn’t even at a friends. I was in my bed asleep. Kind of puts the theory of its what a woman says does and wears causes rape. Nope sometimes it’s just the fact your a threat and a strong woman.

The man who attacked me was a friend. We did cook outs together. We ate, danced, celebrated people’s birthdays, and even drank together. We were familia. These were people who I was close to. This guy was a part of that familia. I trusted them with my thoughts and life. He betrayed me and then would go on to shatter my idea of friends and who I could trust.

That night and the days, months, years after would become one where I would live in 2 worlds. The one I made for protection called disassociation and the other the reality of day to day life. That night he came into my room and started off by smothering me. This was not so he could can control but to kill me. To bad he didn’t realize it would take more than that to kill me. This is my assumption but once he realized I wasn’t dead. He decided that the beat thing to scare me would assault me. I remember very little. I do remember that I’m not a light sleeper but I came back to consciousness very slowly. An extreme fog,headache, and extreme pain. I eventually came to by him anally assaulting me. I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. He kept asking me if this was ok. I didn’t respond and didn’t fight him off. My therapist believes that my brain realized how much danger I was in. Let me clarify it has taken 20 years to remember this. All I originally remembered was coming to with this guy on top of me, and being in the shower scrubbing my skin til it bled to get the smell and thought of him off me. Later I remember that that wasn’t the only blood I was bleeding.

It makes me cry writing this. Still effects me now as I type these words but they need to be said. The next days and weeks I can’t tell you what I did. I do remember going to work everyday and him smiling and making comments to me. I remember chewing the head off of the Pt guy who was trying to help because he had pushed me. I remember getting a page 11 ruining my chances to finish the process for my msg. I kept the lights on, checked windows and doors, night terrors and flashbacks started, and not sleeping. This effected my work. I would fall asleep on equipment and it was dangerous. I fell off a RATCH because of it sustaining TBI. People thought I was a horrible soldier and it was true. I also reacted like a lot of women do. I gained weight believing I wouldn’t be attacked again. I believed if we give them what they want or take charge of our sexuality that we will be in control and not be taken advantage of again. For me, it took away who I was. I wasn’t that girl but it became another loss for me. I struggled with suicidal thoughts and suicide. The black hole that kept swallowing and the flashbacks had me thinking that I was losing my mind. The depression that came enveloped me and I just wanted the pain to stop and it wouldn’t. So I thought death was better than living in this mental anguish.

In the midst of this time, the guy and another friend stabbed 24 times another friend, and dumped him in a bindo ditch. If something can put fear into you to not to talk plus the person in charge of your unit against women, then I’m not sure what could. So I let my mouth shut. I didn’t want to end up dead. Arrests were made. I still have the marine corps times article about it

I then was transferred back to the states. I was struggling with what I now know was PTSD and a TBI. My next duty station had the same response to women as my first one. Cpl Caputo’s first words were we didn’t ask for a woman and we already have one useless one. We don’t want you here. Duly noted. The toll began. I tried to move on, but you can’t run from your demons that haunt you at night and day. You begin to believe what people say. That thinking chooses your life for you.

That night made me choose a man to marry of what I believed I deserved treatment. That man was emotionally unavailable, cruel in his words, treated me like the whore marines thought we were, and abusive because he hated the choice he made. I’m not without responsibility either. I did a lot of things that were not good. I made choices in response to him from trauma that was hurtful. It does excuse his abuse. No man should ever abuse a woman.

I chose to live in denial and disassociation for so many years, but you can cover the wound but as the infection spreads eventually it will come out. My coverup was about to come out. I had finally had enough of the abuse and left my husband. I moved to fl, and tried to work. Ptsd makes that very difficult but Mst made it impossible for me to work. I didn’t trust anyone. No friends. No bosses. No one but me. Then, I had 3 significant health issues. I had a small tumor in my brain. My assault had caused a bleeding issue That caused anemia, which resulted in a heart issue. Finally, I tore ligaments in both feet. Pain and a broken body have a way of tearing down your mind also. As my body broke down further, my mind began to unravel. I went to the va for help. However, I was unwilling to even speak of the trauma. My poor therapists tried hard. Thank you for trying Dr Stien! Both therapists tried but I physically couldn’t speak it. Then, I had a mental breakdown, and was hospitalized for 2 weeks. I couldn’t hold it all together. My mind was crying uncle, and it won.

I came out but I didn’t want to face the pain. I was afraid I would break and never be fixed. So I went back in for a couple of days. This time I came out I was ready to start the journey of healing. That was 10 years ago but Dr Marlow is amazing! I can write this and not end up breaking down mentally. Yes, writing this will cause more nightmares, more flashbacks. Yes there was no justice for me. Yes even my husband was not held accountable for his actions either. I’m ok with it. Moving forward does not mean justice is always served. It means releasing your abusers, and moving forward to use the pain for good.

That brings us to why I’m writing on MST Voices. I started to volunteer because alone with my thoughts, they would take me to dark places. See, PTSD robs you of life. I stayed in my house for six years out of fear of people. My therapist suggested helping. In the beginning, I dint talk to anyone. I also hated the military and I wouldn’t admit I was a veteran. As I volunteered, it gave me a purpose and a hope. I couldn’t work, but I could help a short while. It got me out of my head for a short time period to see other people’s suffering and situation. I helped with human trafficking, serving women in strip clubs, then kids. I had a heart for people who used and abused. So I started volunteering with sexually abused women. As I work through my ptsd, I find cant hear the stories of mst and sexually abused. It triggered too much. I tried, and have come to find right now no.

Dr Marlow says I’m still filled with anger that I need to channel it for good. She says I’m very passionate and that it can be a force but right now I’m too angry to put it into working for MST plus it triggers too much. So for now, working with kids who need someone to fight for them is a good place, and ironically with married couples. Though with the corona virus, no one is seeing anyone.

I am beginning to say I’m a veteran, and embrace my PTSD and MST side. I’m beginning to have a heart for veterans and military going through the darkness of ptsd and depression like I did. I can’t say where this will lead. I would like to finish my masters in therapy to help active duty military and veterans. I can say overcoming has been hard, facing the darkness has been challenging, but I was left alive for a reason. I can chose to sit and die in darkness or embrace the ebb and flow of it while living the best life. For the women who are struggling with the secrets of Mst or sexual abuse/assault, please know it’s not your fault. You can overcome. You can inspire others or even just one. You survived this and it doesn’t have to define you. It doesn’t rule you. It doesn’t have to be who you are. Don’t let the darkness of mst decide how you fight, who you are, or where you go in life. You can fight and come out on the other side of it stronger, more beautiful, and the scars can be turned from ashes to a beautiful reminder that you lived, you survived, and they might have knocked you down For a time but couldn’t keep you there.

Renee H.

US Marine Veteran

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