Army Staff Sergeant Tammy Gee-Unser and Army Specialist Serena Unser, the only mother/daughter members of the Galeton VFW #6611, walked a 10-mile loop around Galeton on Wednesday, July 22. The pair marched to draw attention to the issue of sexual violence against women in the military.
The Unsers’ efforts honored the memory of Private First Class Vanessa Guillen, who was killed at Ford Hood, Texas, on April 2. Guillen’s alleged killer, Aaron Robinson, bludgeoned Guillen on base and, with the help of a civilian female, dismembered and disposed of Guillen’s body. Her remains were hidden and found two months later. Robinson committed suicide on July 2. His conspirator is facing charges and an investigation is ongoing.
Guillen had not filed any complaints against Robinson prior to her death, although she had complained of constant sexual harassment to family and friends. Guillen did not name her harasser for fear of retribution.
Gee-Unser says that comes as no surprise to female military personnel and veterans. “You can report, but they do nothing,” Gee-Unser says. “You’re a young female, and everyone outranks you. Literally all of our friends have been through this. There are very few females who are not scarred.”
Although the military offers a SHARP program (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program) to female soldiers, Gee-Unser and Unser note that it seems to make little difference: “It’s once a year, the guidelines aren’t enforced, and nothing changes.”
“There is constant harassment,” says Unser. ‘It’s ‘her word against his’. Sexual violence is pushed under the rug, not taken seriously – it happens all the times to male soldiers too, and even they don’t report. The military is a hierarchy; you’re supposed to do what the people above you tell you to do. If you push back, it could end your career.”
As the veterans walked around Galeton Lake in rain and humidity, they garnered beeps and waves of encouragement, and noted that a fellow VFW member had supplied them with water and Gatorade for their hike. Unser expressed disappointment, however, with lack of participation.
“I publicized this like crazy, and I was pumped for it,” she said. “We need to get awareness of this issue out there.”
Unser describes one of the many instances of sexual harassment she endured.
“At one point, I had a superior harassing me, offering to pay me for sex,“ she said. “He offered $200, and I kept refusing, and finally he said, ‘Well, OK, but I was going to go as high as $400.’” Unser added, “Vanessa’s experience really hits home.”
“The military is only 6% female,” said Gee-Unser. “With full anonymity, I bet 95% of women would report sexual abuse and harassment.”
Tammy Gee-Unser served as SSG, active duty, from 1990-2006; her tour included stateside, Korea, Iraq and Kuwait. She is a Bronze Star recipient for her design of the fiber network that the Army Department of Engineering uses in 14 countries.
Serena Unser served as SPC, active duty, from 2011-2014, with two years additional time in the Reserves. Her tour of duty included stateside and Kuwait.