HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Staff Sgt. Keisha Hill, a 49th Maintenance Squadron munitions support equipment supervisor, was recently recognized as Air Combat Command’s 2016 Volunteer Victim Advocate of the year.
Hill, who has been a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response VA volunteer since 2006, was rewarded for her role in establishing a SAPR program while deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan this past year.
“[As an Ammo troop] going to Kandahar and saying, ‘Hey, I am a VA back at my home base, I will take over the duties’ was not required of me,” Hill said. “But, I got there and realized that the Sexual Assault Response Counselor was too far away, and it was an issue not having her closer. So, I stepped up to do that.”
Jennifer Childers-Ansell, a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response VA here, who received ACC’s 2016 VA of the year, works with Hill and thinks highly of her performance.
“When I found out about these awards, I was more excited for Keisha than I was for me,” Childers-Ansell said. “I just do my job and fly under the radar. She went above and beyond and she really deserves this award.”
The amount of hours that Hill works as a VA varies from case to case.
“A couple of times a quarter I will carry the standby phone, for about a week,” Hill said. “When I am on standby, that phone is with me 24/7--volume up. If I am at work, I drop everything and I step out to take the call. If I am at practice, I stop what I am doing and say, “I’ve got to go.” When you get called, you go and you help. We are there when victims need us and for whatever they need us for, whether it be going to court cases, being there to listen to them in the middle of the night or going with them to all of their interviews.”
Hill’s role as a maintainer has enabled her to better educate Airmen in the workplace and clarify preconceived ideas and misinformation.
“Being in a maintenance world you see a lot of really negative opinions towards the SAPR program, and being a female in a very male heavy world, you hear a lot of things that are a bit unsettling,” Hill said. “Because I am involved with the VA program, people know that I am not going to stand for derogatory comments or behavior. Even before I was a VA, I was like that, but having this title, and being able to help in a larger capacity, is amazing. I want to help change the perception of what it is that people think about the SAPR program by being an information source.”
Part of being an information source means combatting flasehoods associated with reporting sexual assault.
“There is still a stigma that whoever it is that goes to the VA first, is going to be the person who gets help, or that the VA is going to take the side of a female, even if she is lying,” Hill said. “It is ridiculous that people have that mentality, because those cases are extremely rare. We are going to help everyone that comes to us. We do not pass judgment and we do not pass blame. It is all about putting the power back into the victim’s hands, so they are able to regain their self-confidence, rebuild themselves and make those decisions that they might not be as informed to make.”
SAPR briefings and Green Dot training are two essential means of education. However, many Airmen undermine their value. Hill wants Airmen to know that attending these briefings and programs is important, so that they are informed on how to seek or offer help to a victim of sexual assault.
“People need to start paying attention to these [SAPR] briefings or start asking questions about them, instead of tuning out,” Hill said. “I see it every time I give a briefing, people just get that tuned out look. The program has come so far from its infancy, from when I went to my first briefing as a young Airman. I believe in the program and I believe in what it is doing. But, it is hard to teach people something that they do not want to listen to and that they do not take seriously. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.”
Hill recognizes that some individuals may choose not to report a sexual assault out of fear or shame.
“When I was deployed I would hear rumors of things [sexual assaults], but nobody would ever call,” Hill said. “So, I could never help, and that was just the worst--it broke my heart. There is help that we can give you. If you want to keep a report restricted, that is fine, but at least reach out to someone, to get help working through the trauma. That is the biggest thing. A lot of people do not understand how you break as a person after being sexually assaulted. And if you think sexual assault is not happening in the military, you are grossly mistaken, because it happens. It occurs less than it used to, but I believe there are still a whole lot of cases out there that have never been reported and never will be.”
Hill notes that Airmen interested in becoming a VA must be empathetic and willing to put the needs of others first.
“Being able to help people--that is why you do it,” Hill said. “You cannot do this job if you are just here for a bullet or to look good. This job will break your heart. You are helping someone at a very vulnerable time in their lives, and it will make you both hate and love mankind.”