• Samantha Hoch

On My Failures, and the Army's

Updated: Jul 29

On June 16th, 2022, I was finally discharged from the Army with a general (under honorable conditions) discharge. In September 2021, after almost two years of managing my mental health with a medical marijuana prescription, I decided to leave the Army as an activist for mental health awareness and women’s rights. I intentionally failed a drug test (for my prescription marijuana, which I had been hiding from the Army for equally as long) in order to bring attention to the struggles that I, and the vast majority of women, face in various branches of the American armed forces. Keep in mind that the suicide rate for American soldiers is more than four times higher than the casualty/kill rate of American soldiers throughout the 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The following is the statement I disseminated to my chain of command. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means the network of authority figures to whom I answered and from whom I took orders. After planning my exit for more than a year, I wrote to my leaders begging for visibility and help for the comrades I was leaving behind, who will continue to fall victim to a broken, internal system for sexual abuse reporting. Be advised this statement contains references to sexual assault, suicide, physical violence, drug use, and PTSD. Please also know that I have finally broken free and am safe from retaliation and harm.


My hope is to someday read my story before the American Congress. My more pressing goal was that this story would help at least one other sexual violence victim in today’s military. Please share this statement with anyone you believe it might benefit.


______________________________


Today marks the end of a chapter for me, but my story is only just beginning. What happens here in this room today and in the days to follow will surely inconvenience you. But be mindful, it will also be historical. Your decisions will, at a minimum, affect the hearts and minds of dozens of your comrades, colleagues, and peers, within which I’ve already left a long-lasting impression. What happens here today will initiate a chain of events. As leaders, today it is your role to decide what those events look like and the future of the 316th, the Army Reserve, and the United States. This is my statement. This is my story.


Because I know how short-sighted soldiers can be, I’ll first get to the point. My urine sample failed a drug screen because I am a drug user. I use marijuana every day under the supervision of both my psychiatrist and my primary care physician. Everyone in my world knows I am a medical marijuana recipient and advocate. I am not ashamed, and I do not regret my decisions.

I understand you may be disgusted with what you perceive as gross exploitation of power and a failure in leadership. I also understand that you may know much of my character, and if you do, I know how difficult this process is and will continue to be for you. I want everyone involved to understand this: no matter what courses of action you choose, as leaders, as my comrades, I will support you. I will defend you. And I will hold my head high.


But I owe you more than that because I’ve broken the laws of this institution, and as a professional to the highest degree and a life-long learner, I owe you my story. It’s not everything, because there isn’t time for everything today. But it’s a small part that will help you put together the pieces of my journey and understand what a difficult decision it has been for me. I’ve had to make many decisions throughout my life, and I believe that I’ve acted with my heart and my integrity first, every single time. I know I’m imperfect, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t tried to be a better leader, educator, academic, comrade, parent, volunteer, and friend.


I’ll start my story when I joined the Army the month I turned 18. I was a teenage runaway and lived alone through the end of high school, working full time, paying rent, maintaining my car, and otherwise living a relatively normal adult life. I didn’t have much direction in life and didn’t know where I would go from the small town my family finally settled in. The only thing I’ve ever been sure of is that I wanted to be a college graduate. That’s where the Army came in.


I took my oath of enlistment less than 30 days after first being contacted by a recruiter, and I’ve spent the last 16 years becoming the expert and professional I am today. I have never had a support system outside of my comrades and lived a pretty solitary life until I became a single parent at the age of 23.


Between my enlistment and the birth of my daughter, I had survived a years-long relationship with another enlisted soldier who was so violent that I was hospitalized as a result of his abuse. I finally broke free of that relationship when he went to prison, and I gave up everything I had in the world to do so. You’ll see in my record I have one “bad” year. That was that year. I was homeless, living on the street in rural Mississippi. I missed annual training as a result.


The following year, I was back in New York, building my life again from the ground up. That was the first year I was sexually assaulted in the military. Without getting graphic, because I know how difficult sexual violence is to confront, an NCO from a neighboring unit at a QLLEX exercise in Fort AP Hill VA cornered me inside a HUMVEE and sexually assaulted me. It was only by the grace of the Universe that I was able to escape, flee, and report the incident. My commander promised to confer with my assaulter’s commander and reprimand and remove him from the AO. His tent was within 100 feet of mine, between my tent and the latrine/showers.


I was told this person was removed but still didn’t feel safe enough to move anywhere within the AO unless I was in a group. I was shaken by the incident, but as the days went on, I felt more and more grateful for the support of my comrades and my commander. It wasn’t until 13 days later as we tore down the tents to return home that I found out they had only confined this soldier to his tent for the duration of AT. Every day for two weeks he watched me come and go. It wasn’t until I began my VA disability claim a few weeks ago that I learned my report was never filed. No action was taken. They protected my attacker, even after they’d disclosed that this wasn’t his first sexual assault offense.


The second time I was assaulted, I was on orders at Ft Knox, KY for H7 (truck driving) school. I got the highest marks in that class and performed the best on the road. I achieved honor grad in that school and was the only female on the roster. I was also forcibly raped at that school. Immediately, my NCO who also attended that school with me took me to the hospital on post. After explaining that I was sexually assaulted and in need of care, the hospital on Ft. Knox refused to treat or even admit me because I was a reservist on the last day of orders. I had to wait two days to travel home and a third day to be seen by a public health clinic in my hometown. I had to wait three days to shower, have a rape kit performed, be given a heavy dose of antibiotics that would make me sick for weeks, and be given interventive protection against pregnancy. At 72 hours, that intervention would not likely have been effective had I been pregnant at that time. This experience began to shape my perspective of the Army landscape and where I fit into it. This time, I didn’t even bother filing a report.


I spent the next couple of years abusing alcohol and my body, not realizing the severity of my now diagnosed PTSD, chronic depression and anxiety, and having little control over my very destructive behavior. I was arrested more than once for reckless and immature decisions that cost me very much over time. I’m thankful for my arrests, because they introduced me to therapy. They taught me that the way my assaults were handled contributed drastically to my level of trauma, my perception of self, my ability to trust my own judgement and my understanding of the world around me. I would continue to serve the organization that failed me with gusto, ambition and resiliency for another decade.


I have desperately sought mental health counseling throughout the years and pursued every avenue and resource available to me. I have been through 4 or 5 therapists over the course of the last decade, and have made repeated attempts at both mental health rehabilitation, and suicide. I’ve tried different medications, none of which have worked for me. After many years, I began approaching my annual PHA with honesty, in an attempt to seek care. For the last several years I have been flagged as a psychiatric risk. Each time I am offered a profile, and I decline, in order to continue supporting the Army’s needs. Every year I check the block asking for behavioral health support. I have never received a follow-up call or email for that care.


I won’t detail the likely hundreds of sexual harassment experiences I had in the years following my assaults, because as you’ve now heard, I have never been supported, protected, or heard by the Army. This is despite outperforming my peers year after year after year and supporting my units as a Master Fitness Trainer, Master Resiliency Trainer, HAZMAT certifier, Best Warrior Facilitator, Environmental Compliance Officer, Unit Prevention Leader, Unit Movement Officer, LNO, soldier advocate, and one hell of a Non-Commissioned Officer. It’s now been two years since the Army upheld its end of my contract in reference to the education benefits I so desperately sought as a kid who had to grow up too fast. The Army is no longer serving me. And now, it’s preventing my personal growth and holistic healing. Today I incorporate regular exercise, sleep, proper nutrition, hydration, yoga and meditation, mindfulness, art and music, lots of time in nature, medical marijuana, positive affirmations, volunteer work, and my MRT skills to promote my own healing. It takes the complete package for me to be able to function without hypervigilance, sensitivity to noise, flashbacks, and other symptoms. Today I am healthier and more complete mentally than I have ever been.

By now you’re surely tired of this speech, and even if you aren’t, it doesn’t matter much anyway. I’ll finish with this. Today is not a day of shame or redemption for me. It’s not a day of somber attitudes or superficial apologies. I refuse to acknowledge any sympathy that you offer. Instead of sympathy, I propose a simple call to action.


You are in this room with me because you’re part of my Army family. What you may not know is that you are some of the only family that I have. Please feel free to express your disappointment. Express your frustration for the image I’ve cast on the organization and the nightmare of paperwork ahead. Vent to me about damage control. Say whatever you need to say to me. But don’t ever try to hide my story. Don’t shy away from the truth in your discussions about me. Most importantly, don’t ever be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, whatever that may be.

Understand that you are leaders. And while you’re not the leaders who have repeatedly failed me throughout my career, this is your mess to clean up. As leaders, you are actively shaping the culture of this organization, the greater Army, the United States, and the world. Choosing inaction; choosing compliance; those are actions too. As leaders, our actions speak strongly for our intentions and our values. Our actions shape the landscape. I have chosen my actions with intention. I am approaching retribution for my actions with integrity. I know my values and I am not ashamed of my decisions or beliefs. I hope you can say the same for what follows. You have the platform to spread awareness; to start bigger conversations. You have the power to create real change now, with my story and my pain as your ammunition. Will you?

SFC Samantha Hoch

316th ESC SPO

21 September 2021