Conduct Unbecoming of the U.S. Army

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I filled with tears and anger, but I refused to leave. Instead, I sat outside the boardroom, waiting for my chance to confront J.

I sat at the only exit, getting up every once in a while to pace and peer through the blinds. All I could see were J’s sergeant stripes that he didn't deserve, and his beloved combat badge. I looked around the old headquarter building, shaking my head at the typical state of disservice of another Army facility. Peering outside, the world was blurred by layers of untold years of dust and dead gnats on the windows. I glared at others walking through the halls, laughing and talking as if all was right in the world.

Broken statue of a woman lying on the ground. Jean-noël Lafargue, “The Rape” (2004)/Wikimedia Commons/Copyleft

After three or four hours, the board called a recess. I sat in a chair, arms folded, bracing myself for our first confrontation since the rape. J walked out, looking down, and then looked up and met my eyes. His eyes widened and he recoiled, responding as if someone had just slapped him. He turned around and refused to exit the room, hiding from my view behind a partition.

I had expected a cocky, arrogant and challenging response from him, but our roles had been reversed. Now I was the one in power, while J wouldn't even show his face. Later in the day when the board tabled their deliberation, I again took my place outside the door to await J’s exit. This time I stood right in his path, arms crossed and staring him down. He dropped his head and refused to look at me, walking briskly away with his lawyer. I didn't say anything; I didn't need to.

The board allowed my presence when it announced its decision the next day. There were few formalities. The panel read a short statement explaining the purpose of the meeting, and recorded who was present in the room. My body was rigid, my stomach in knots. J, who had been ordered to report to the board for only one day, had traveled home. He had been suspended from active duty, and was now listening in on a conference call to learn the fate of his career.

Then the board gave its decision: J was to be given an Other than Honorable discharge, without the possibility of reenlistment and with the loss of all of his benefits. He was stripped of his rank, his awards and his dignity.

And as I left the boardroom, I thought, “Get used to it, J. This is how life is for women in the Army.”

The author is now a university student, and plans to pursue a career as a trauma therapist. She continues to serve in the Army National Guard.

(Published December 3, 2009, on New America Media)