Updated: Jun 15, 2018
Lauren was sexually assaulted in Afghanistan. Although she reported, her assailant only received a letter of reprimand. Later, he was arrested and convicted for child luring.
Read Lauren's story in her own words below.
I continue to persist today as I do everything I possibly can to prevent this from ever happening to another soldier.
When I was 18 years old I decided to enlist in the military to pay for college. I graduated high school in May 2009, and left for basic training five days later. I joined the Army Reserves, and was immediately prepared for deployment to Afghanistan once I returned home for training. I deployed throughout the Kandahar province as a Carpentry/Masonry Specialist from 2010 to 2011.
I was sexually assaulted in Afghanistan at the very end of a long deployment in January 2011 by a superior that I had grown close to over the year prior named Anthony Christopher Garcia. I was 20 years old at the time. We were a week from coming home and I wanted nothing more than to go home, so I didn’t make a formal report until well after our return in September 2011. Although I filed a restricted report to the civilian DOD employees responsible for our demobilization, but unfortunately that paperwork was ultimately lost. As a result of the assault (and the proceeding nightmare), my adult life was obliterated by PTSD from the assault; I struggled to survive and almost failed out of school. Seven years later I am still picking up the pieces, and everyday remains a constant battle. I continue to seek help at the Boulder Vet Center following the aftermath and am grateful for their services.
Yet, the assault was not the worst part of the whole ordeal. The victim advocate of my unit was also the First Sergeant (1SG) of the company. This proved to be a serious conflict of interest because it took a year, almost to the day, for me to transfer out of that unit. 1SG Sharon Osbourne chose to protect him from punishment. At first she seemed helpful, and even took me to CID to file my official report, but this effort proved to be insidious.
Although the CID report found enough evidence to conclude that the sexual assault occurred, nothing happened to SGT Garcia. Meanwhile, I was promptly ostracized by the new command because of 1SGT Osbourne and her influence at the Battalion level. They put me through hell when I tried to get away from my attacker and leave the unit. My $20,000 signing bonus was threatened, I was being threatened with unexcused absences even though I was actively drilling at other reserve units in town, it ultimately cost me my Army career. SGT Garcia remained in the unit and received merely a letter of reprimand from a Brigadier General (over a year after I reported it). I was being gaslighted by an expert and I didn’t know it.
In 2014, he re-surfaced on my radar as he was arrested for soliciting sex with a minor
impersonated by undercover police deputies. Click here for a link to the local news article. I was told repeatedly by others, especially female soldiers, to “Let it go” once I was transferred to the Medical unit. They would say things like “Nothing is going to happen to him in this patriarchal system” and “You were lucky, at least you got away”. Which is a sad sentiment all its own for too many female soldiers, because they are saying to let the predator go free. I became complacent and listened to those other soldiers until this story broke, because this story broke me. This story confirmed my suspicion that he groomed me as the youngest female among my group. Furthermore, he continued to groom children for such attacks despite my best efforts. The fire in my belly was rekindled, my complacency was extinguished and I decided that I wasn’t going to listen to those soldiers anymore; I was going to do something. The only reason that I decided to report the incident in an official capacity, the only reason that I endured all the pain and suffering, was so that he could never do it again to anyone else.
I called the police department and gave them my story, but because it happened on military duty it was not admissible in civilian court. That didn’t stop me though, I contacted the Sexual Harassment And Response Program (SHARP) liaison at my new unit and tried to reopen the case with JAG down at Fort Carson. I even drove two hours to speak with the prosecutor in person to plead my case with a battle buddy who had experience with similar matters. In the end, they chose NOT to prosecute the case because they were so backlogged with the Active Duty sexual assault cases that they could not help me and my ‘reservist’ case. But still, I persisted.
I continue to persist today as I do everything I possibly can to prevent this from ever happening to another soldier. Combining forces with other soldiers who have suffered injustice, we have been able to start this website, attend the Veteran’s Organizing Institute in 2018, and hopefully start a movement. The military’s handling of sexual trauma in unacceptable and needs to be addressed.
In spite of all of his transgressions, true to the ‘good old boys club’ bureaucracy, his unit allowed him to come in during the week and make up for the time that he had spent in jail because “he had not yet been convicted”. In 2015 he was convicted of luring a child and served 90 days in prison and was sentenced to ten years of parole. Also in 2015 I fought to get him dishonorably discharged and even testified at his boards. However, he was issued an ‘Other Than Honorable Discharge’, the same type of discharge a person gets for testing positive for marijuana on a urine analysis. The last thing I heard about SGT Garcia was that they were going to delay his discharge for a few months so that he could collect his retirement pay. The moral of the story here is that if you happen to be a sex offender in the military, you’ll still get to use the excellent benefits – don’t worry.