BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
Editor’s note: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This article is the final part of a series that provides personal insight from those who’ve overcome abuse and want to share their story to help others who may find themselves in a similar situation. Knowing the warning signs is important to know when to reach out for help or to help a fellow Airman or spouse.
He was charming and funny. She was an outgoing new Airman who had just arrived at her first duty station.
Their friendship grew into something more romantic. Her friends warned her of him right off the bat, but she saw a side to him no one else did. He made her feel loved. It all seemed bearable to her until one day, it wasn’t.
“There were some red flags that I probably should’ve caught before, but I was 19,” said Staff Sgt. Randi Sologaistoa, 2nd Medical Group Alcohol and Drug Prevention and Treatment Program NCO in charge. “He started demeaning my friends, then he would put me down and call me names. I thought it was just a part of his culture. I had no idea it was ever going to be something more.”
Four months into the on and off relationship, the couple received unexpected news. Sologaistoa was pregnant.
“That's when everything forced us together. We really worked and committed ourselves to each other, but that didn’t stop the drama,” Sologaistoa said.
What began as verbal abuse eventually turned physical, but she didn’t want anyone to know. She didn’t want to be seen through that lens.
Eventually, after talking with her friends and supervisor, she ended up going to her leadership. Sologaistoa and her boyfriend were put in contact with the family advocacy program and he was directed to anger management.
“I forgave him. I was pregnant and honestly, I didn't want a broken family. I wanted to make it work,” Sologaistoa said. “I told him, ‘if you work on yourself, we can do this,’ but, it didn’t really work out that way.”
A Never Ending Battle
She started attending an empowerment group. She felt strong, and knew she needed to get out. She stopped cowering down to him. This made matters worse. He continued to become more consistent with his abusive tendencies.
One night it got bad enough that she had to message a friend for help. He backed her into their bathroom corner and began to hit her and screamed demeaning words toward her. Finally, a knock on the door by security forces interrupted his rampage.
“Unfortunately,” Sologaistoa said as she dropped her head. “I did it again. I protected him. He was by the door and he just looked at me. I didn't want to hurt him, I didn't want to damage his life. Looking back it is so frustrating, because that should’ve been my moment. That was when I could’ve gotten help.”
The next day she went to the first sergeant. She wanted out.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘this is going to help me, I'm going to get help now.’ He looks me dead in the eyes and says ‘well, Airman, I think this was just a bad argument, I think you'll be fine,’” she said. “I was so scared, but I looked back at him and I said, ‘when he takes my phone away from me, locks me in a closet so I can't get help, what am I supposed to do?’ He replied, ‘oh, I don't think that's going to happen.’ That moment, in my head, I decided, that’s it, there's nothing. I have nothing. I am never getting out of this.”
A week after that encounter, security forces was at her house again.
“That same first sergeant was sitting at my kitchen table. He didn't say a word to me,” she said with a laugh. “I wanted to flip out on him so bad, but I didn't. I kept saying ‘I told you, I told you this was going happen.’ It was at that moment I realized, I hated leadership. I hated the Air Force. I hated it all. They did nothing for me.”
The abuser was out of the house, but not out of her life. She had to learn to cope with his constant stalking and harassment, with their daughter caught right in the middle.
To make matters more difficult, she was given orders to Kunsan Air Base, Korea – meaning she would have to leave behind her two-year-old daughter. She did all she could to ensure she was able to see and talk with her daughter while she was thousands of miles away.
During a court hearing, she was awarded an order stating he had to let her communicate with their daughter at least twice a week, which did not happen.
“I was hesitant to go to my leadership in Kunsan for help, but I was at my lowest of lows, not having my daughter and having absolutely no control whatsoever,” Sologaistoa said.
She finally found the courage to talk to her supervisor. There was an immediate difference, like a breath of fresh air. Since it was a civil matter there wasn’t a lot they could do, but they did all they could and supported her the whole way, she said.
“I saw what great leadership was. I saw how much good leadership could make a difference. This is what the Air Force is, this is what I envisioned the Air Force to be. And knowing that, it kept me going. So I decided to stay in and do what I could to help other people be better, to give others good hope for this Air Force, because we are great,” she said with an empowering smile setting across her face.
When Sologaistoa was going through this, Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate services were not available to her. However, that wasn’t the root cause to her issues, Barksdale’s DAVA explained.
“Leadership must be unbiased,” said Adriane Banks, Barksdale’s DAVA. “In Sergeant Sologaistoa’s case there was bias because they did not understand the dynamics of domestic abuse. Support from leadership is vital. They have an obligation to direct offenders and victims to the proper resources. Programs and subject matter experts are in place for these purposes. It takes a collaborative effort to assist and provide excellent services to the military community.”
Sologaistoa’s situation with her leadership wasn’t ideal, however she urges people to keep pushing forward and to seek help from these available resources.
“Did I receive support from leadership initially? No, but I didn’t let it stop me. It was hard, but so worth it,” Sologaistoa said. “The resources that the DAVA, family advocacy and mental health can give you is amazing. Knowing and not doing anything is wasting those assets. You're not alone. Reach out and get the help you need. The Air Force has changed for the better.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with domestic abuse, here are some available resources:
• Family Advocacy Program – 318-456-6595
• Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate – 318-233-2230
• Military OneSource – 1-800-342-9647
• National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233