In the wake of a critical review of Fort Hood where the Army fired or suspended 14 officers and enlisted soldiers and ordered policy changes, a North Texas military veteran says it’s a start but not enough.
Army veteran Benita Swinners sees a lot of herself in Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen.
“Being a female, being Hispanic and learning that she was in the arms room when she was murdered, it really affected me because I was a supplies sergeant,” she said. “I felt like I could envision that day. I could envision going into the arms room. It forced me to really look inside my own self and realize: That could’ve been me. I am Vanessa Guillen.”
The Mesquite resident was never stationed at Fort Hood, but she remembers requesting the base when she enlisted following the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Swinners, Sgt. E-5, proudly served in the Army and National Guard for eight years.
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She was deployed to Iraq in 2004, where she says it happened.
“In the military you’re taught that you have each other’s “six” You have your battle buddy. Lean on your battle buddy. But I knew that there was an enemy within the ranks,” she said.
A sexual assault.
One she did not report. It took 15 years for her to speak out, she said.
“I feared retaliation, just like many other veterans who are assaulted,” said Swinners. “I just assumed I’m supposed to be “one of the guys,” and that’s what’s instilled in you in the military. Drink water and drive on. And that’s it.”
News of the sweeping condemnation of Fort Hood this week brings her some peace of mind.
A panel review found a toxic environment from the top down and a “permissive environment” that may have contributed to pattern of violence including: sexual assault, harassment and even murder.
Is it enough for Swinners?
“Absolutely not,” she said. “And this situation is not unique to Fort Hood. But it is a start.”
Swinners supports legislation in Vanessa Guillen’s honor that would aim to improve military response to sex-related crimes by allowing independent investigators.
As for her trauma, Swinners credits her mom Betty and her faith for pulling her through.
She recently opened up about her experiences in a blog for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Swinners is now turning her efforts into soon starting a non-profit offering therapy and resources for men and women in the military who have suffered an assault.
The group will be called: S.W.E.A.R. In To You (Surviving Warriors Everywhere Advocates & Resources).
“We’re asking that these soldiers and these veterans raise their right hand and swear under oath to serve themselves, love themselves and come forward,” she said.