Sexually Harassed Soldier's Mom Speaks Out
The story about 21-year-old Suzanne Swift, the female soldier who was arrested in Eugene, Oregon for refusing to return to Iraq, is getting a lot of attention. On Monday, Suzanne's mother, Sara Rich, told OR Public Broadcasting that her daughter dealt with constant sexual harassment; today, truthout.org is running a letter Sara wrote called, "Fear for My Daughter."
Please spread far and wide:
It started out with being scared for her life when she signed up for the military. She assured me that she was promised she would not go to Iraq. I was not as trusting.
She was sent to Iraq right out of her basic training. While she was packing, we cried, as she assured me she would be okay. One of her sergeants assured me, "Don't worry, ma'am, we'll take good care of your daughter." I desperately hoped that I could trust him to watch over her. I later found out he was one the first predators to try to have sex with her and make her "his private."
She spent a long year in Iraq. I feared for her safety every waking minute. She frequently called me crying, telling me very little of the horror she was witnessing - only telling me it was hard. She told me that almost all of the other soldiers were sexually harassing her and that many of her sergeants and lieutenants were really pressuring her and making her life miserable for rejecting them. Calls from her often ended with "Oh, there goes gun fire - gotta go mom, love you."
When she returned from Iraq, she was much more quiet and anxious than when she left. I offered to get her help, but she refused. She told me that if she opened that can of worms she would not be able to function as a human being. I asked her if she wanted to deal with the horrible sexual harassment charges against so many of her fellow soldiers. She said, no mom, it would only make my life even more of a living hell. Then she finally blew the whistle on one of her superiors for sexually harassing her, and she was treated like a pariah, while he was moved to a different unit and promoted. She put her head down and worked as a Military Police officer on Ft. Lewis. She was always shocked by the number of domestic violence calls she went out on. The fear of a mother of a peace officer was there, but at least I could call her and knew she was safe. We knew that she was going to be re-deployed to Iraq sometime after the mandatory 18 months' stabilization time is over. So, we were looking at November of 2006 for a second re-deployment. Our hearts were heavy at the thought.
She came home for a visit and couldn't face me to tell me she was going back to Iraq much sooner than expected. My fear was skyrocketing. I asked, how can they do that, you will have only had 11 months of stabilization time? She told me that she refused to sign the paper waiving her rights to 18 months. She was told that her life would be hell in a shit hole if she refused to sign. They screamed in her face and intimidated her to the point that she would shake when she told the story. Our family prepared. She was packed, ready to re-deploy, keys in hand. She said, "I can't do this, Mom, I can't go back there." We shifted into action to protect our daughter.
We networked with everyone imaginable. We knew that we would rather see her in jail than spending another minute in Iraq. We hired an attorney with experience in these kinds of military matters. And Suzanne went into hiding.
Now here we are, facing what we knew was a real possibility. Suzanne is in jail and waiting to be taken up to Ft. Lewis, and I am really scared. The military treated her horribly when she was a soldier, I can only imagine what they will do to her as a prisoner. She is a brave young woman and my hero. But there is only just so much stress an Iraq war veteran can handle.
My fear for my daughter is real. My hope for and belief in my daughter and what she is doing is strong and unshakable. I truly believe she saved her own life with her courage. It is to be hoped that by telling her story and standing strong she can encourage others in the military to stand up, speak out, and refuse to participate in this illegal and immoral war.
Thanks to you all. I knew this was going to happen eventually, so I had my ducks in a serious row. Today I had a press conference, a vigil, at the jail where Suzanne is, and I spoke to 10 different radio shows, some nationally syndicated, three TV stations, 3 newspapers and had a million calls.
I only got to talk to Suzanne for one short minute in which we were both were crying so hard we could not talk.
They are transporting Suzanne tomorrow in the early morning to Ft. Lewis and returning her to her unit. We are planning to be at the jail at 7:45 - 9:00 a.m. to see if we can catch a a glimpse of her as she leaves the jail to show her that we are here for her.
Letters of Support Needed
Please write to Lt. Colonel Switzer, Ft. Lewis, Washington, to ask that Spc. Suzanne Swift receive a medical discharge or an honorable discharge from the Army due to her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After writing the letter, please fax a copy to:
Senator Gordon Smith
211 East 7th Avenue, Room 202
Eugene, OR 97401
Senator Ron Wyden
151 West 7th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401
Congressman Peter DeFazio
151 West 7th, Suite 400
Eugene, OR 97401
Phone: (541) 465-6732
Senator Patty Murray
950 Pacific Avenue, Ste. 650
Tacoma, Washington 98402
Phone: (253) 572-3636
Fax: (253) 572-9892
If there is no fax number, you can email them. Let me know if you send a letter and if you get a response.
If you want to donate to Suzanne's legal or medical fund, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much from Suzanne and her family. We appreciate your love and passion. This is so important for us to do - not only to end the war, but to defend women who are in the military.
Sara Rich, M.S.W.