386 AEW SARC stands in the gap, helps airmen overcome

386th Air Expeditionary Wing sexual assault response coordinator 1st Lt. Chandrika Brewton poses for a photo in her office Tuesday August 8, 2017, in an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Rashard Coaxum)

386th Air Expeditionary Wing sexual assault response coordinator 1st Lt. Chandrika Brewton poses for a photo in her office Tuesday August 8, 2017, in an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. (U.S. Air Force illustration by 1st Lt. Rashard Coaxum)

SOUTHWEST ASIA -- A recurring theme across the Air Force has consistently been “taking care of Airmen”. From your unit first sergeant, to your base mental health team, Airmen can take comfort in knowing that there is a team of trained and dedicated professionals looking after their well-being.  In addition, they can rely on their sexual assault response coordinator.

A volunteer, special-duty assignment, a SARC reports directly to the wing commander, and is the wing’s primary point of contact for integrating and coordinating sexual assault victim care services for assault victims. At the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, this role is filled by 1st Lt. Chandrika Brewton.

“It's unacceptable and just wrong that sexual assaults happen in our Air Force, so that’s why it’s important that we do sexual assault  prevention in addition to sexual assault response,” said Brewton. It’s not necessarily a bad thing if the SARC team is coming around, because we want to get to know people, and work on the prevention side as well.” 

“We do a lot of briefings like the Rock On briefing and commanders calls,” she said. “We get to get out and just talk to people when there isn’t a formal briefing.”

When an individual is the victim of a sexual assault, the SARC first interviews them and makes sure they are doing ok, without pressing them for information. Most of the time the individual will tell you what happened, according to Brewton. 

“We aren’t counselors but you can listen to someone and be empathetic without being a counselor,” Brewton said. “We will tell them what their reporting options are, and arrange for their care, but it’s important to point out that it’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for each other.”

Brewton said there are two types of report options available to victims of sexual assault.  An unrestricted report initiates notification of the individual’s commander, and an investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.  A restricted report stays within the SARC office, and no investigation is made. Whether restricted or unrestricted, the same resources are available to the reporting member. 

In addition to the reporting option, other resources available include medical care, mental health, family advocacy, spiritual guidance through the chapel, and any other assistance that can be provided.

“We just take care of them,” said Brewton. “If they want to go to counseling or medical, we can do that. After that, we just check on them and make sure they’re doing ok.  We are the resource pool.” 

While she has been entrusted with the care of Airmen who are in a vulnerable state, Brewton isn’t the sole point of contact for sexual assault issues. She is assisted by a team of victim advocates who are trained to perform the same duties Brewton performs as the SARC.

Victim advocates are everyday airmen, who have volunteered to undergo a 40-hour training course, to assist Brewton with her duties. Victim advocates have access to all of the same resources as the SARC.

“When people think of SARC, they clam up right away, which is why it is good when Airmen volunteer to be advocates,” said Brewton. “It can be easier for someone to talk about a situation when they are speaking to a peer.”

So far on this, her first deployment, Brewton has had 10 Airmen volunteer to become victim advocates. While the statistical numbers of assaults is less on a deployment, the help is always welcome.

“If we do see incidences it would be around the three to four month mark, when people really start to get comfortable around each other and make bad assumptions,” Brewton said.

A personnel officer by trade, Brewton became a SARC in December 2016 after a discussion with her commander at her home station, the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

From a young age, Brewton was interested in helping others, with goals of becoming a social worker. Brewton graduated from Kansas State University ROTC with a degree in sociology, and is currently in pursuit of a Master’s Degree in Social work. 

“I just love helping people, I’ve always loved helping people,” said Brewton.  “Sexual assaults are happening, so my goal is to get someone down the path from victim, to survivor.”