ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. | The darkness retreats as the spotlight pierces the stage. The curtains roll back revealing the actors. They stand amongst their props as if they were not on stage but in the scenario itself. The scene is set and they take their place un-phased by a loud roar of applause before the performance begins.
The show unfolds and the audience’s eyes follow the actor’s movements across the stage. There is laughter and there are tears; the scenes are burned as memories because of the emotional attachment. That is the power of a performance up close and personal and that is what the Sexual Assault Theater Group from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana intended.
The SATG came to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota Aug. 28-30 to provide interactive training. They believe that lectures and slideshows are not always beneficial. So they decided to try something different.
“One of the reasons we do this is to bring the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training into a new light,” said Tech Sgt. Charlton R. Nelson, noncommissioned officer in charge of the vehicle operations support center assigned to the 2nd Logistics Readiness squadron at Barksdale AFB. “A lot of people get tired of slideshows and reading e-mails. They get tired of going to a meeting where someone is facilitating for an hour or more. We want to do something that keeps the audience on their toes and thinking about the scenarios.”
In addition to sexual assault, the SATG highlights other issues which leaders at all levels may potentially face, either personally or while helping their Airmen.
“The main focus of the performance is sexual assault,” said Bernie McFarling, the sexual assault response coordinator assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing. “They also include topics such as domestic violence, alcohol abuse, coercion and other kinds of intrapersonal and interpersonal violence. The group started from humble beginnings and has continued to grow.”
The group’s first performance was at a commander’s call.
“We thought it was going to be a hobby at first, but the reaction I got from my commander, first sergeant and peers showed otherwise,” said Nelson. “I knew then and there how impactful this message is and how it affects the mission in a positive way.”
Air Force Global Strike Command is sending the SATG to multiple bases across its area of responsibility to spread the message that no matter how bad your situation is, you can get help and do not have to go at it alone. The performances highlight helping agencies available across the Air Force.
One of the topics mentioned was that victims don’t always know where to go and what is a restricted and unrestricted report. A big part of this falls to the base chaplains who know the resources on base.
“Chaplains are here to help but they can only do so much,” said Capt. Ronald Feeson, a chaplain assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing. “We are one of the first resources used by victims because we are strictly confidential. But sometimes we bring the person to another professional who has more expertise with their specific circumstance.”
Victim advocates were available throughout the performance to provide assistance to anyone who felt uncomfortable during the play.
“The actors are extremely passionate about spreading the message of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office,” said McFarling. “Some of them are victim advocates and some of the team members have experience with the topic presented in the show.”
At the end of the play, the actors stayed in character and answered any questions the audience had. The comments ranged from feelings and responses, to hypothetical. The message was clear that people on base are here to help victims of sexual assault and other violent crimes but it all starts with one coming forward and letting these dedicated professionals help.
Ellsworth has plans to start their own theater group. The intent is to emulate the SATG team from Barksdale and spread the word about prevention and empathy.
“One of the outcomes of this event is we would like to start our own theater group here at Ellsworth,” said McFarling. “Part of the reason the Barksdale team is here is to put on a workshop for us to show us behind the scenes and see what it looks like to start up a theater group.”
For more information on becoming a victim advocate or to find out about the Ellsworth SAPR theater group, please visit the SAPR office in the Rushmore Center or call their office at (605) 385-5233.