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Film screening helps Lajes recognize issues
Team Lajes gathered to watch a series of screenings from The Invisible War documentary Jan. 8 through 11. The film features servicemembers recounting past struggles of sexual assaults within the military. Lajes' Sexual Assault Response Coordinator conducted the discussion sessions to develop ideas on how to better promote a military culture and environment that fosters mutual respect, trust and confidence. (Photo by Lucas Silva)
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Film screening helps Lajes Airmen recognize areas for improvement

Posted 1/15/2013   Updated 1/16/2013 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe
65th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

1/15/2013 - LAJES FIELD, Azores -- The Invisible War, a compelling documentary in which women and men recount their past struggles of rape and sexual assaults within the military, is both disturbing and heartbreaking.
Although some argue the 90-minute film is quite one-sided, it brings to light a very serious problem not to be ignored.

"It's highly controversial due to the fact that it strongly criticizes the Department of Defense, commanders, the (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) program, investigators and the criminal justice system," said 1st Lt. Erica Peat, 65th Air Base Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. However, "this movie does a really great job of highlighting a very specific and serious problem we have not only in the military but within our society."

Lajes purchased The Invisible War with copyright benefits specifically for training purposes.

From Jan. 8 through 11, Peat hosted six sessions for all of Team Lajes to watch and discuss a series of screenings from the documentary.

"I want you to focus on the survivors and their stories," Peat said. "I want to challenge you to think about how you as first-line supervisors, leaders, Airmen... what we can do better to promote a culture that fosters mutual respect, mutual trust and confidence."

Changing attitudes and behaviors in the area of sexual assault prevention requires an open dialogue. Therefore, participants were highly encouraged to have an open mind and actively participate within their discussion groups.

"I think the biggest thing that's going to help our culture and environment is us - that's everyone from the airman basic to that seasoned chief," said Tech. Sgt. Edward Dieterle, 65th Force Support Squadron Manpower and Organization NCOIC. "It's not about relying on leadership to always be the bad guy and then make sure they're hammering people. It starts with us.'"

The Air Force has always had a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault.

In December 2012 the Chief of Staff of the Air Force summoned all wing commanders to Andrews AFB, Md., to discuss the issues and carry out a Health and Wellness Inspection at each base. Lajes participated in the inspection Dec. 5 and 6, 2012.

"We were glad to have someone come take a look at our wing," said Lt. Col. Zoya Lee-Zerkel, 65th Medical Support Squadron commander, who led the inspection effort along with Col. John Oliver, 65th Mission Support Group commander. "We know we're a healthy wing; there are very positive, good things here at Lajes, and we wanted that validated."

Dieterle served as part of the inspection team and visited several office spaces with a counterpart. One item they found was a joke that made them both laugh but still had to be documented as inappropriate for the workplace.

"It's nice to know my humor wasn't completely crude, but it was also a location-based thing," he said. "It's nice to have that sanctity at work knowing that you're not going to be sexually harassed or assaulted, and there is nothing around to make you feel uncomfortable."

During the inspection, confiscated items included anything members deemed inappropriate, such as unprofessional magazines, music with explicit language, inappropriate words, pictures, cartoons, offensive jokes, and some older memorabilia and heritage items that may have had some off-color jokes or sexism.

"As human beings we need to take care of each other and treat everyone with dignity and respect," said Tech. Sgt. Maria Hudgeons, 65th Comptroller Flight Financial Services section chief. "We must continue to educate our Airmen on the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, and we need to reinforce having a professional work environment. We should be able to work in a place where we are all equally respected; there is no place for racism, sexism, etc. That is the reason the Health and Welfare inspection was performed - to reinforce those values."

The SAPR office will be showing a full screening of The Invisible War at the base theater Jan. 18 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. This event is open to everyone.

For more information or to contact the SARC, call the 24/7 Hotline: 535-7272 (SARC) or 966-677-266 or send an e-mail to

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