SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Ensconced in Building 920, a utilitarian structure that prioritizes function over aesthetics, is the office of Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Lahella Jones, which she describes as “a safe spot to land.”
Ms. Jones was recognized by the Department of Defense as the SAPR Victim Advocate of the Year for 2023. Her involvement with SAPR began in 2006, when she volunteered during her active-duty Air Force career. After earning a master’s degree in social work with aspirations of providing psychotherapy to military families, she decided to return to SAPR as a civilian.
“I believe in SAPR, and I believe in what the DOD has created,” Jones said. “So that’s kind of why I decided to break away from traditional micro-level counseling and go a different route and try to impact families in a different way.”
Ms. Jones’ guidance extends beyond permanent personnel to the many Airmen in Training on Sheppard. She manages the teal rope program, which is made up of selected student volunteers who receive training to provide peer-level SAPR support.
Teal ropes play a vital role in the effort to prevent sexual assaults.
“We knew that when we think of primary prevention efforts, that the majority of what we’re going to be able to do is going to be with our teal ropes,” Jones said, “so we have poured a lot of time and energy into ensuring that we select the right people and that we are developing them into great leaders.”
82nd Training Wing Vice Commander Col. Kirk Peterson explained how Ms. Jones’ efforts will have far-reaching impacts on the future of the Air Force.
“Sheppard Air Force Base develops airmen of character. We want airmen to be leaders amongst their peer group and say ‘This is my Air Force. We don’t do that in our Air Force,” Peterson said. “That’s how you create this family environment in the United States Air Force where everyone feels valued and trusted.”
Peterson further explained that learning about SAPR also helps build resilience, which is critical to the mission of building the airmen needed for America’s future.
“It’s helping them hone their skills on how they deal with difficult situations and problems and helping to resolve it at the lowest levels.” Peterson said.
At its core, though, SAPR is about preventing sexual assault and supporting people who have experienced it.
According to Jones, only 40% people who have been impacted by sexual assault come forward.
“We’re here,” said Jones. “And the whole purpose of what we do is to support victims. We will always believe them, every time. We take a lot of pride here in our office and the people here really care about every single person that comes through that door. Our doors are open to everyone.”
Ms. Jones will travel to the Pentagon in May to accept her award.