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Be a whistleblower: A local veteran shares her story

By Staff | May 31, 2019

Carol Williams

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Three years after Carol and Kimo Williams met at Boston, Massachusett’s Berklee College of Music in 1975, they decided to enlist and join the United States Army Band. But to make sure they wouldn’t be stationed in separate locations, they married beforehand.

Kimo was already familiar with military service, as he had served with the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. But for Carol, who eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant, the seven-and-a-half-year experience required more resilience than she had anticipated.

In 1979, Carol filed a complaint at her first duty station in the Ninth Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, because her commanding officer had engaged in “long-term threatening and repetitive sexual harassment.” Carol still has evidence of some of his harassment, including a copy of an inappropriate disposition form, which the commander had signed and posted on her unit’s bulletin board.

“This happened to me in ’79, and I went all the way to the Department of Defense to complain about this guy, and he got promoted anyway. They found him guilty and reprimanded him, but within a year he was promoted,” Carol said, mentioning the unaddressed sexual harassment left her fighting post-traumatic stress disorder for 30 years.

“Three years ago I went to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and they screened me for PTSD for the first time. I hadn’t been to the VA for 30 years, I had no idea I could have filed a claim for PTSD,” Carol said, mentioning she has used the money from her claim to fund her artistic pursuits as a fiber artist and author.

From left, Williams' military service-inspired fiber artwork, entitled "Me, 1978-1985," "Pallas Athena" and "Doubles as a Chastity Belt," which were featured along with other works by Williams in her "Fibers of Defiance" art show in the War Memorial Building over the weekend. Tabitha Johnston

While Carol said she is glad the VAMC offers monetary compensation and a variety of other services to veterans with similar stories, she is concerned the measures are all occurring too late.

“The VA is cleaning up the mess the Department of Defense makes,” Carol said, mentioning measures, such as limiting military members’ alcoholic intake, should be taken to prevent sexual harassment for men and women within the U.S. military.

“It’s been documented that alcohol is involved in the majority of sexual assaults. That’s the only material thing that I think could be changed,” Carol said. “You can’t expect people’s behavior to change, when it’s being altered by an outside substance.”

According to Carol, she does not believe the military has made any progress in its treatment of sexual harassment or assault, since she left the military. But, after serving for 20 years as a nurse in Chicago hospital emergency rooms, Carol recognizes that similar abusive behavior can be found anywhere. And because of that, she encourages anyone who has or is experiencing sexual discrimination, harassment or assault to speak up against it.

“I was a whistle blower everywhere I went,” Carol said.

As she thought about her life on Friday afternoon, Carol said a misconception about military personnel and veterans, is to view them as a different type of people.

“The first time I put that uniform on, I looked down at myself and realized people had worn that uniform for 200 years — it was profound,” Carol said, mentioning she had not viewed herself as the type of person to join the military. “I was a Vietnam War protester. I was a feminist out there, performing in the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Rock Band.

“You have to let go of ‘Gee, I’m not the kind of person that goes into the military,’ because that just means everyone who’s not like you is who the military becomes,” Carol said. “That’s bad, no matter your political beliefs.”