Sexual Assault in the Military: One Woman’s True Story
Polo Tate, author of new memoir Deep Dark Blue, was sexually assaulted multiple times during her time at the Air Force Academy.
“Come on, Tate. My dog-gone grandma is stronger than you!”
I was face down in the Colorado dirt. The upperclass cadet shoved his hand down the back of my pants, grabbing my belt, camouflage cargos, and underwear, and yanked me off the ground into a plank position he called “the mother.” I was sweating through full battle dress uniform pants, a USAFA ringer T-shirt, combat boots, and class-color baseball cap in the middle of basic cadet training for the United States Air Force Academy.
My arms shook. I felt my face flush. His rough, dirty hands had just scratched my butt cheek during the grab-and-yank.
“You better stay up this time. Your squadron mates are counting on you.”
He shoved his hand down the back of my pants, grabbing my belt, camouflage cargos, and underwear, and yanked me off the ground into a plank position he called “the mother.”
His breath was hot, rancid at my ear. The three other classmates getting “trained” beside me were all male, which was no surprise, given that the Academy was only 11 percent female at the time. The cadet who had stopped the four of us “basics” on the trail—for incorrectly greeting him—knelt down beside me.
“Come on, Taaaate.”
His lip grazed my ear as the words slithered out. I could feel his saliva land on my lobe, my cheek. He put his hand on my ass to apply pressure to my arms and my core. He was testing me.
That feels weird. Wait…is that weird?
I wasn’t sure. Is this part of his test? I had just graduated high school, and everything was new—we were expected to become new by the end of basic training. It was dirty, gritty, difficult, and also a challenge that I had applied for, fought for, earned a senatorial nomination for, and accepted with pride. I immediately stifled my inner questioner. I shut down the innate responses to his hand on my backside. I shelved the awkwardness of how the upperclassman was training me, and instantly turned my attention to following his orders.
We had been in plank position for what had felt like an eternity, and I prided myself on my physical strength. I was an athlete, after all. I’d signed my letter of intent to play USAFA volleyball, though I had been recruited for Division I varsity basketball and soccer, too. I had seen, heard, experienced the assumptions of weakness that many cadets—both upperclassmen and my classmates—held about women, and I had made a promise to myself that my gender would not get in the way of my success. I would not give anyone ammunition to try to make me fail at what I had come here to do: to triumph over the challenges that we as cadets faced at our nation’s finest Service Academy, to fly with pride, to graduate with honors, to serve and protect our country, and to find my own niche working for the FBI as a profiler.
This article was written for Marie Claire magazine, you can read the rest of this article here:
Polo Tate is the author of the memoir Deep Dark Blue, available now.