Episode 96 – Heath Phillips – 49x
I had another podcast lined up for this week. However, I saw this story on the Washington Post website (He went AWOL after being sexually assaulted….) and felt this was more important in an age of #metoo and increased awareness around sexual assault. I decided to talk about Heath and his story and what I felt was a failure of leadership.
In 1988 Heath was 17 years old and serving on the USS Butte. It was on this ship that he started being sexually assaulted by 6 other male crew members. After filing a complaint 49 days in a row, Heath went AWOL. I couldn’t believe it either, he filed a complaint 49 straight times and nothing was done. Upon review of his case, he received a Other than Honorable Discharge, and was kicked out of the Navy.
Heath faced challenges from PTSD as a result of what happened to him, go into alcoholism and kept fighting to clear his name. Three times the Navy review board looked at his plea to upgrade his discharge to honorable, and three times he was denied.
30 years later, after the fourth time presenting his case to the Navy review board, Heath got the news last week that his discharge was upgraded to Honorable.
I still can’t get over how this happened. I don’t understand what the mind set was of the Captain of the USS Butte and other Petty Officers that allowed this to happen and did nothing to defend this Sailor. They aren’t fit to wear the uniform, much less call themselves Naval Officers.
Heath does talks across military installations advocating for those who have been a victim of sexual harassment and assault in the military. I am glad he kept fighting and did not give up or go into the abyss. There are some links below about Heath’s story and the Military’s SAPR Office.
- Protect Our Defenders – Heath’s Story
- My Duty to Speak
- DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Office