Sara Rich and Suzanne Swift at Ft. Lewis 2/5/07. Photo by Lori Hurlebaus

30 days in prison and stripped of rank, my daughter Suzanne is now more than ever my hero. I write to update you on recent events, and ask again for your help (specifics at the end of this letter).

The court martial is over. I sat through the proceedings and testified. Suzanne was respectful through the whole thing. Then she had to recount her harassment and sexual abuse experiences with the molester in Iraq. She started to quietly cry as she re-told her story of being abused and humiliated by this monster who was *supposed* to be her employer and surrogate parent in a combat zone.

He groomed and manipulated her. Threatened and intimidated. Harassed and sabotaged — until my daughter felt suicidal and stopped caring about her life.

I sat behind her and silently cried with her, hearing the nightmarish recounting of what my firstborn had to endure… in the middle of a combat zone.

I told them about my experience as a mother watching her child suffer. I kept it together. I wanted them to know the depth of my daughter’s pain, how she suffered, how she’s been punished enough.

On a break, I told Lt. Col. Kuhn what we spent on attorney fees when we couldn’t find a single letter from any of Suzanne’s legal representatives in her case file. There was a letter I never received in the file — written to me March 10, 2006, three copies with correct name and address, saying Suzanne was dropped from the ranks and considered AWOL.

As Suzanne pleaded guilty to the “missing movement” and AWOL charges, she summoned all her strength. My heart swelled with pride as she stood up and was so professional and beautiful. Even with fear of prison, not knowing her fate, she held her head high with eyes clear.

Something struck me as I read Suzanne’s file, other than the names of the three sexual predators and harassers. Others are just culpable as these three in their lack of protection of this soldier. Equal Opportunity officer William Cox ignored Suzanne’s plea for protection. Who trains these criminals who are supposed to help and advocate for people who’re being abused? The entire chain of command let Suzanne down.

Now three years later, the military system is again severely traumatizing and victimizing my daughter. General James Dubick, Colonel Katherine Miller, Lt. Col. Kimberly Kuhn and Capt. Sheldon Beer decided that Suzanne needed more punishment. Why not simply take her deteriorated mental health condition and allow a medical or general discharge?

Instead they made an example out of Suzanne, letting the world know that rape is systematically ignored and even condoned in the US Army.

Perhaps they thought they sent a different message, but ordinary citizens, and the citizens of the world see clearly. They see the “free pass” given to rapists in the US Armed Services.

The victim’s mental health does not matter. They stripped Suzanne’s rank and sent her to prison for 30 days. She asked for a deferment so she could be home for Christmas and the birth of her sister’s first baby. DENIED.

Suzanne took responsibility for the two charges, and asked for clemency, that her rank be maintained or suspended. She was so proud to make specialist and dreamed of being a Sergeant. DENIED.

How can these people care so little about a young girl abused by the very system they’re a part of?

The holidays were hard for us all. Yes, I’m constantly grateful my daughter is alive. But our family wasn’t able to visit Suzanne during the holidays due to her nephew’s impending birth. We cried thinking about her in prison on Christmas day. We had no way to call on the birth of her nephew New Year’s Eve.

Thanks to Jeff and Susan for visiting, and Wally and Anna Marie, who tried to set up visitors. Suzanne received lots of mail which made her rather unpopular with the mail “screeners”, but made her happy to know so many people cared. Thank you so much for your cards to her!

Suzanne is an emotional wreck since leaving prison. Sometimes I wonder if she’ll truly lose it this time. When she called Congressman DeFazio’s office to solicit help, she was put on hold, then told he wasn’t in Oregon. She asked for a specific staff person six days ago; no one has returned her call.

She wrote three letters asking for help in September 2006, to DeFazio, Wyden and Smith, with signed privacy act waivers. Wyden and Smith returned regurgitated military jargon saying the investigation was complete and thorough. Suzanne read them, her shoulders sagged and she threw the letters down. I wonder how other military victims are treated when they try to advocate for themselves, without families or loved ones to help? How do they afford attorneys if they have nothing? The military is a big beast to wrestle, and most people it damages are unable to advocate for themselves. How sad.

Now the Army has made decisions for Suzanne. A new job: clerical shipping and ordering. Then March 30, 2007 a transfer to Ft. Irwin, California. 917 miles from our home. 14 hours versus 4 hours away.

They take away her support system, including her psychologist. The Army wants her to see an Army psychologist and break off her year-long working relationship with someone who’s truly helped her. What unprofessional disregard for Suzanne’s emotional and mental health.

For the record this “deal” was anything but “phenomenal.” It was more “abominable”. Soldiers who’ve been in combat in Iraq who have PTSD from sexual abuse don’t deserve to be stripped of their rank and sent to prison. Be mindful who you trust to take care of your children.

Once again I ask for your help, please write and call your Congressional Representatives and Senators, and ask them to help Suzanne. Allow Suzanne to have a medical discharge.

As her mental health deteriorates, she deserves what any Iraq Combat Veteran deserves: RESPECT. Especially, she deserves what an Iraq War Veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who was sexually abused in a combat zone needs: RESPECT. Please write your local media, to help us keep this case alive until justice is done.

Huge thanks and appreciation to all of you who have written, donated and acted onSuzanne’s behalf. Too many to name, but I think of you all often and I am so grateful for you.

Let us walk in Peace, and take action every day to military sexual violence.

Sara Rich,
proud parent of Suzanne, Sonja, Brandy and Jake