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A vital support system: the volunteer victim advocates

A female Airman sits on a stool looking at the camera smiling.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tynnassee Draper, 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron fleet management and analysis supervisor, poses for a photo at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Nov. 24, 2020. Draper has been a volunteer victim advocate for about a year and enjoys helping spread awareness about the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

A close-up photograph of a male Airman looking at the camera.

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Kelly, 354th Maintenance Squadron avionics superintendent, poses for a photo at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Nov. 16, 2020. Kelly has been a volunteer victim advocate for about four years and began working with the program because he enjoys helping others. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kaylee Dubois)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

There are unsung heroes within each squadron in the U.S. Air Force who lend an ear to stories that are not easy to listen to. They help people rebuild their lives and provide them with support during a difficult time.

These individuals are volunteer victim advocates with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, a program that requires a great deal of time, training and an unwavering heart.

For Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, volunteer victim advocates are ready to serve their community.

“We're the person survivors can lean on to help walk them through the process of dealing with a sexual assault or harassment so they don't go through it alone,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Kelly. “A lot of what we do is just support, giving them someone to talk to and letting them know it's not their fault.”

Kelly, an avionics superintendent assigned to the 354th Maintenance Squadron, has been a victim advocate for about four years and began helping with the program because he felt he needed to spend his volunteer time doing something that had meaning.

“I feel confident that what I’m doing is having an impact,” Kelly said. “It's important to get involved with something that you enjoy and, for me, I enjoy helping people.”

Along with providing volunteer victim advocates, the SAPR program has a plethora of services on hand to assist military members, family members, Department of Defense civilians and retirees with their road to recovery.

Anytime an individual walks into the SAPR office, they have access to certified Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, a Special Victims’ Counsel, Victims Legal Counsel and specially trained military criminal investigators. But throughout their time spent with any of the resources available, a victim advocate will be by their side as a stable support system.

For U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tynnassee Draper, being that support system has been something she’s been working toward since she began volunteering as an Airman 1st Class.

Draper is a 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron fleet management and analysis supervisor, and has been a volunteer victim advocate for about a year. She started helping with the program by volunteering for events, outreach programs and Green Dot videos and realized she wanted to do more, which guided her into her current position.

“It takes a special kind of person to do this, so if you just want to volunteer, there are so many more things that can be done within the SAPR office,” Draper said. “There are always more events and outreaches that can be helped out with. Being an advocate is amazing, but it can get hard, it can get stressful, and it's not for everyone.”

Acknowledging the difficulty that comes with the program, Kelly and Draper noted a key priority for the program is to have well-trained victim advocates for both genders.

In supporting her clients, Draper’s volunteer time spans past a usual workday.

“I try to meet up with clients and get them doing something active,” said Draper. “Whether it's going walking around a lake or going to a horse ranch right down the road, I like to meet up with them in different locations to ease their minds. I want to help survivors to stop thinking about everything going on and just be able to be in the moment. Get away from electronics, get away from all the stress of life, and just be able to relax.”

Draper added each client requires different types of support and the continuous training provided by the SAPR office helps generate new ideas for her to use.

Both Airmen spoke about how their experiences as victim advocates have influenced the way they interact with others.

“I've definitely changed the way I talk to my Airman,” Draper said. “We have an open line of communication and I make sure they know what they need to do in certain situations to keep themselves and their friends safe inside and outside of the workplace.”

For Kelly, he identified a change in his behaviors throughout his time in the program and tries to mentor younger Airmen in his workplace by encouraging them to volunteer in the community and fostering an environment of respect and dignity.

Along with encouraging the Airmen to volunteer, Kelly added he calls out inappropriate behaviors when he recognizes it.
“I'm a lot more cautious and aware of how people view actions differently than I do,” Kelly said. “I’m also a lot more aware of other people's feelings and not just my own.”

Although the volunteer program may not be the easiest job, Draper and Kelly were enthusiastic about their time serving.

Draper highlighted the need for volunteers, while Kelly, coming to the end of his career, doesn’t want to see an end to his time with the program.

“I don't think I would ever want to stop doing this,” Kelly said. “I think it's so important to have victim advocates, and it's just so vital to the Air Force. I don't think anything would stop me from doing this, from helping others.”

If you’re interested in being a volunteer victim advocate, contact the SAPR office at 354fw.sarc@us.af.mil.