Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable

Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable
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Beyond Ogling Eyes

thoughtful-woman-in-camouflage

 

In 2004, the U.S. Army changed their uniforms so that collars could be worn upward to protect the neck when wearing body armor. This meant that the rank insignia had to be moved from the collar to the center part of the chest.

Talk about awkward.

The problem of having the rank insignia in the center of the chest is two-fold. First, it requires fellow soldiers to stare at female soldier’s chests — and by proxy, their breasts — to determine their rank. But beyond drifting eyes, it especially becomes uncomfortable during promotion ceremonies where traditionally, the senior officer removes the insignia patch and replaces it with one reflecting the new rank, all while trying not to touch a female soldier’s breast in the process.

This has opened both female servicemembers and their male superiors to unwanted situations. In some cases, it has also added to the military’s ever-growing problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“Stop staring at my breasts — oh wait…”

It was in 2021 when Lt. Col. Rachael Hoagland, an acquisition officer in the Army, decided to confront the insignia issue head on.  

According to Hoagland, several male comrades had asked her opinion on how to best handle removing and replacing the patch during ceremonies.

“I had conversations with peers, especially men, on how uncomfortable it was to promote a female and have to touch them in the breast area where their rank is,” Hoagland said.

Lt. Col. Rachael Hoagland poses for her Army portrait. Hoagland has been a staunch advocate for women in the military.

So, while she was in the U.S. Army War College developing her skills as a military leader, she decided —against the advice of many peers — to write an editorial on the topic and submit it to the “Military Times.” 

However, before the piece was published, Hoagland received a lot of counseling to make sure she understood that it might not be a smart move for her career. When she submitted her paper to the “Military Times,” she was encouraged to soften her language, which she did.

Hoagland’s editorial, which she called “Stop Staring at My Breasts — Oh Wait, That’s Where My Rank Is,” was published on April 18, 2021. The story went viral, gaining coverage from several major outlets across the U.S. and even the U.K.’s “Daily Mail.” 

The editorial became so popular that Hoagland started receiving unsolicited feedback. While some of it was encouraging, a lot of it was not.  

Hoagland received several nasty negative responses, ranging from people saying she must “be fully tatted with nipple rings,” to accusations that her breasts were likely fake.

“I also had some harassing messages sent to my personal government email that said things like I should be publishing papers on Russia and China, not about my tits,” said Hoagland.

But Hoagland also had her wins. In fact, leadership from the Space Force reached out for her suggestions on where she thought the rank should be placed on their uniforms. 

Unfortunately, even though the article broke some ground and despite the military’s efforts to combat this issue, the number of  reported  sexual assault and sexual harassment cases has only continued to rise each year.

The motorboating case

A month after Hoagland’s editorial was published, Capt. Billy Joe Crosby, Jr., a logistics officer who was on a deployment in Jordan, told one of his sergeants that he wanted to take a junior female soldier with him on a trip to another base because “he liked looking at her tits.” 

That should have triggered alarm bells, but it was ignored. 

When Crosby learned the junior female soldier was being promoted, he joked with her twice, saying that he planned to “motorboat” her during the promotion ceremony. Motorboating is a slang used to describe planting one’s head between a woman’s breast and making the sounds of a motorboat with their lips as they move their head from side to side.

Crosby was also reported to have said that the placement of the Army insignia was moved to the chest for the purpose of motorboating. In response, the junior soldier promptly told Crosby that she did not want a promotion ceremony.

Court records indicate that the following day, Crosby approached the junior soldier and ordered her to stand up. He proceeded to lean in and grabbed the rank insignia with his teeth before motorboating her.

This time, Crosby’s behavior was immediately reported by witnesses. 

Crosby was originally charged with abusive sexual conduct and conduct unbecoming of an officer. He took a deal that reduced his charges and removed the abusive sexual contact charge. By doing this, he protected his retirement package and avoided having to register as a sex offender. The deal also reduced his maximum confinement to 120 days, but the judge only sentenced him to 30 with no reprimand, forfeitures or fines.

Finding his literal “opening” 

In 2019 — two years before Hoagland’s editorial — a female Navy Chief was teaching a class for soon-to-be executive officers when she noticed a student staring at her chest. Stunned, she stepped out of the classroom and explained the situation to Master Chief Navy Counselor Franklin Tiongco, who was the service’s national chief recruiter at the time. He glanced at her chest, then told her the button on her blouse was open.

However, he didn’t stop there. According to the NCIS investigation that followed, the Master Chief also slid two fingers into her blouse’s gap and touched her breast beneath her bra. 

Another Master Chief who served as a witness told Tiongco to stop, adding that it was more than an incidental touch. 

The female Chief told the Navy Times, “After he said that, Tiongco laughed, and I walked away and he walked into the classroom to do his introduction.”

The witnessing master chief later told the NCIS investigators the incident was “stupidly inappropriate, but benign.”  

However, the female chief strongly disagreed. As someone who had already been sexually assaulted at the beginning of her career in the Navy, Tiongco’s actions caused her to freeze as trauma from the prior attack paralyzed her.

In April 2020, the NCIS investigation found there was “sufficient probable cause” that Tiongco violated Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for abusive sexual contact. However, Tiongco was not charged with a crime. Instead, he was relieved from his national chief recruiter role. He received a letter of reprimand for “sexual harassment and assault on a petty officer.” He then submitted a request and was allowed to retire in August 2020 with a demotion. 

The vicious cycle continues

Each year, the military spends thousands of dollars putting service members through mandatory Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training. However, despite implementing more rigorous SHARP training, the number of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases in the military continually increases each year for both women and men. 

In addition, even though the new location of the Army insignia has opened doors to awkward situations between male and female service members, the military still has not initiated any changes to the patch placement. Hoagland hypothesized that this might be because the military lacks diversity of thought, especially at senior levels. 

The number of women in the military is slowly growing, with 2021 numbers showing 17.3% of active duty members and 21.1% of the National Guard. However, leadership roles are still predominantly held by white males who have been in charge of handling sexual harassment and assault claims, as well decisions on things like changes in uniforms. 

Hoagland added that while the military is doing better at embracing diversity, leadership ideology has not changed much.

“There’s a lot of research that indicates that minority groups assimilate faster into a culture,” said Hoagland. “So as women, we just accept the issue because we don’t want to be the problem. We don’t want the attention on us.” 

Hoagland also hypothesized that leaders tend to justify the problem as the exception, not the rule.

“For most of us, these issues like the motorboating incident are just unthinkable,” said Hoagland. “Leaders think ‘I wouldn’t do it. My buddy wouldn’t do it.’ So it’s easy to justify these cases are the rare exception.” 

Lastly, Hoagland said that it is also hard to link the insignia issues to actual cause of harassment, adding there is no easy way to prove that moving the rank insignia would make a difference in sexual assault claims.

“The thinking, for example, is that the guy who did the motorboating is just a creep,” said Hoagland. “He was going to sexually harass and assault her anyway, no matter where the rank was placed.” 

New changes from the commander-in-chief

In late July of 2023, President Biden signed a historic executive order changing how the military handles sexual assault cases. The order amends the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) so that commanders are no longer the key decision-making powers in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, murder, child abuse, and other serious offenses.

Instead of commanders, the independent military prosecutors of the new Offices of Special Trial Counsel, which is completely independent of the military’s chain of command, will now decide whether to prosecute such offenses. According to the White House, procedures will be modernized to better protect victims and promote fairness before, during, and after court-martial proceedings; the court-martial sentencing system will be reformed to promote uniformity and fairness to reduce disparities in sentencing in cases of rape and sexual assault; and a uniform evidence standard for non-judicial punishment actions will be created to ensure consistency across the military services.

“These reforms are a turning point for survivors of gender-based violence in the military,” the White House said in a statement.

Helping set the standard

While the rank insignia remains on the chest area of uniforms, Hoagland’s editorial has definitely not gone unnoticed. Meanwhile, the potential of retaliation that many warned her about has yet to occur. 

“My leadership was really respectful,” Hoagland said. “While they might not have agreed with my article, I think they understood that it’s important to discuss issues even when they are uncomfortable, and to see them from different perspectives. I got a lot of support looking at it from that aspect. Yesterday, I had a male friend say, ‘Hey. I thought about you and your article as I was going in to promote a young woman.’ That’s good, right? At least he remembered it.”


 

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