by Air Force Tech Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
JBER Public Affairs
10/25/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The
young Soldier didn't show up for physical training on time, as she did
every other day. She missed formation. When she did show up for work,
with a bruised face, she was quiet and withdrawn. Many of her fellow
Soldiers looked - even stared - at her face. Time passed, and the day
People went about their duties, still staring. Still wondering. Finally,
one person walked up to the battered Soldier and had the courage to
ask: "What's that on your face?"
The Soldier smiled and handed out a card, saying, "Thanks for asking!"
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The Army and Air Force Family Advocacy offices on Joint Base
Elmendorf-Richardson initiated a joint-service social experiment Oct. 22
and Oct. 23 to raise awareness of domestic violence and collect data to
be used to combat it.
The experiment was called 'Thanks for Asking.'
Seventy Air Force and Army volunteers signed up to receive moulage simulating various domestic violence injuries.
The 'victims' went around common areas of the base and went to work without the unit being aware the injuries were simulated.
"Typically, we have information booths about domestic violence awareness
and are there, live, giving out information," said Diann Richardson,
Air Force JBER Family Advocacy Outreach manager. "Well, people walk past
our live event with the domestic violence information and say 'thanks'
or walk the other way. So, as a team we asked if this was really
effective ... just standing here at the booths. The answer was no."
The Family Advocacy offices decided on a creative, realistic approach with the domestic violence issue.
They enlisted the aid of the Pacific Air Forces Air Force Medical Modeling and Simulation Training team and base leadership.
The 'Thanks for Asking' volunteers carried numerous cards explaining the
campaign and highlighting domestic violence statistics and support
Family Advocacy told volunteers to miss formation, be late to work,
adjust their normal behaviors and give other indicators to create
concern, and to show up at work with the 'injuries' given to them by the
If anyone approached them and asked if they were OK or what happened,
then the 'victim' would hand out a 'Thanks for Asking' card and share
some of the statistics and options for dealing with domestic violence
and sexual assault.
Pfc. Talia Pitts, an Army volunteer, said she showed up late to work
with visible bruising and her sergeants immediately reacted.
"First, I didn't go to PT this morning and it was unusual," Pitts said.
"They were banging on my door and they called me. When I got to work, my
[noncommissioned officers] found out and told our first sergeant. Our
first sergeant called the military police. They did everything right.
They were all very concerned."
JBER Military Police dispatch and hospital was aware of the campaign and
likelihood of calls reacting to the volunteer's injuries.
Despite her unit's obvious concerns, Pitts found it to be a different story when she ventured outside her unit.
"It's amazing how everybody would look at me," Pitts said. "They were
very concerned, but didn't say anything. They would just look at me.
Some people asked my sergeants, but they didn't ask me."
Airman 1st Class Nicholas Key, an Air Force volunteer, had a personal
reaction to participating and also experienced a contrast in reactions
from those who saw him.
"Most of the people said something, mostly in a joking manner," Key
said. "For a little while, it almost felt like I had this nasty
transfiguration on my face, and I almost wanted to keep people from
seeing it and bringing it up. It was almost embarrassing. However, it
was nice when people saw it and recognized it as a problem. But when
people saw it and didn't say anything, it was a bit hurtful."
Key said one person who approached him to see if he was OK, expressed,
after learning of the experiment, that he was very hesitant to ask
because he wasn't sure if Key would get angry about it and they would
end up in a fight.
Richardson said the biggest apparent trend with this effort was that a
greater number of people seemed more uncomfortable approaching women
with an injury than with a male.
Key was waiting at the dining facility with his obvious 'injury' when he witnessed this pattern for himself.
"There was another Airman in line who was also in the experiment and had
what I thought was a more obvious wound which had a bit of a cut in
it," Key said.
"I thought for sure she was going to be asked if she was OK or if everything was all right."
Key said the female Airman waited in line among a bunch of Airmen. Since
her food was served first, she cut in front of a portion of the line -
yet no one said anything.
"It was kind of hard to deal with," Key said. "I almost took it personally to see that nobody said anything."
Officers and enlisted volunteers took part in the effort.
Air Force Col. Reba Harris, an Air Force volunteer and squadron
commander, was moulaged with a very noticeable black eye and was
intentionally late to a meeting. A variety of people stopped her on the
way to ask if she was OK.
"Upon arriving to my meeting, everyone stood up for me ... rendering
proper respects," Harris said. "Every jaw in the room dropped. I gave no
eye contact, which is not my usual behavior. I put them at ease and
asked them to sit down."
Harris said one NCO asked to talk to her in private in the ladies' room
and asked if she was OK. She wanted to know if the commander needed any
Although not everyone who saw the various simulated volunteers' injuries
asked a question, lots of people were prepared to assist or refer the
'victims' to medical help.
At the end of the day, the volunteers spoke about their experiences and gave
feedback on how people reacted to them.
Richardson said the realistic scenario was a pretty consistent test for men and women alike.
She said people had some pretty strong feelings when people let them
down. Others told stories of extreme concern and immediate reaction.
The Family Advocacy offices conducted the campaign to answer a single question.
"Where are we?" Richardson asked. "Having experiments such as this, you want to gain information about where we are.
"We have assumptions and predictions, but to actually have someone walk
into a shop with 50 people, with 50 cards in your hand and come back
with 25 cards ... well, its basic math. Half the people asked, and half,
not so much."
She said the experiment does not reveal why people didn't ask questions or intervene, so this was just for a baseline.
Richardson said the next step is to find out why people didn't ask.
"If you suspect it, you need to report it," Richardson said. "If someone
walks into your shop with a black eye, or a mark on the back of their
neck, or scrape marks ... it is important you say, 'Hey, what's wrong?
Harris agreed with the need to step in and ask questions, no matter who it is.
"I would tell them that it doesn't matter the rank of the person, or the
position of the person," Harris said. "Especially if you know them and
had seen them in the last few days and the bruises did not exist.
"Please walk up to anyone in that situation, male or female, and ask the
question. 'Hi, how are you doing? What happened?' That is what I would
say to anyone from a junior member to a four-star general."