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A Black Eye and a Purple Heart: The Uniform Code of Military Injustice and the Sexual Assault it Condones within the United States Armed Forces

There’s a photo in my phone, taken in the Rockefeller Center with three young petty officers in the United States Navy last Christmas. The officer on my right is clad in his dress whites, sporting on his right arm the insignia of a petty officer third class, his vacant arm draped around my shoulder in a jocular gesture, as if it’d rested there a million times in the aftermath of gunfire. With a touch of low saturation and a speckled filter, we’d have passed for old comrades aboard the USS South Dakota at Guadalcanal. His countenance bears a dauntless spark of the eyes, as if contesting the camera’s flash, and it’s well complemented by an affable but furtive grin, like he’d just broken his buddies out of the brig. He looks like a Jayton.

6,717 American soldiers died in the War on Terror.

If Jayton returns to battle this year, he will more likely be raped by a fellow seaman than die in a combat zone.

I used to dream of piloting a fighter aircraft, careening the city below me from a view inside the cockpit that spanned millions of convivial household gatherings and rumor-plagued abodes. I’d weave a series of funky, amorphous contrails in the crimson skyline, the kind I used to point to in the great expanse of clouds above me and ask my grandpa about as a kid. This summer, I decided to apply for a position as a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol’s Hanscom Composite Squadron. It was an Air Force auxiliary program that allowed young adults to engage in physical training, rescue missions, education in aerospace and piloting, debates, and opportunities to meet with ascendant military officials. I’d grown up with my nose buried in the pages of autobiographies typically condoned on musty library shelves, sinking into the cockpits of combat paragons like Geoffrey Wellum, Roland Garros, and Manfred von Richtoffen. I wanted to see as they saw and feel as they felt.

When I think of the United States Armed Forces, I think of the three-page essay I painstakingly concocted to convince my mother to let me join the Civil Air Patrol. I think of the stack of applications that rattled in the wind as I struggled to hold them down and bring my pen across their sleek surfaces. I think of the searing pain of muscles stranded in irregular positions, brought forth by the stockpiled workout routines I urged myself, as every other soon-to-be cadet urged themselves, to practice persistently in order to exceed the President’s Challenge and qualify for a promotion. I think of the lines of codes and aircraft parts every cadet uttered between footsteps, singeing them into their memories for upcoming promotion exams. I think of the sheepish grin on my friend Christopher’s face the first time he soloed in a Cessna 182 and how he must have crafted a vision of his future right within arm’s reach above his angle of attack.

Of the average of 322,000 members enlisting in the military yearly, 210,000 enlisted after participating in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in high school. 210,000 teenagers, like me, pictured the military as part of their lives in the future. The JROTC program facilitates military training and environment for teens who had developed an interest in the armed forces. The military is represented to thousands of teenagers as a facsimile of integrity, honor, and courage, but for decades it has carried with it a behemothic price to pay. The Uniform Code of Military Justice- having become more like The Uniform Code of Military Injustice- lists sexual assault as an “occupational hazard”, meaning that all 95,000 victims since 2006, as reported by the Department of Defense, have had to take their case to the Chain of Command, which, in most instances was responsible for the assault.

Now, as a teenager, sexual assault victim, and a member of the recruiters’ target audience, I can’t shed my mind of the Pentagon Study conducted last year that revealed 90% of sexual assault victims within the military were not only prohibited from seeking legal assistance but were also dishonorably discharged, inhibited of all veterans’ benefits. This is what the next generation’s hard work will compensate for. One of such victims, assailed by her chain of command, is Cori Cioca, who now lives with post traumatic stress disorder, bilateral disc displacement, and facial nerve damage. None of such victims were viewed as deserving of a Purple Heart for injury during service, and none of this will change without Congress’s enforcement of a responsible system of prosecution outside the chain of command.

As the array of amiable smiles and utterances of encouragement from servicemen fester in my mind, I can’t help but wonder: How can we win a war against a foreign regime if we can’t even confront a war within our own?

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