Our servicemen and women face many hazards in the line of duty, but there is one battle far too many take home: military sexual trauma. It is the result of being sexually assaulted or harassed while on active duty.
It happens to some of the strongest women and men in our nation, who enlisted, trained, and fought for the country. Now as veterans, they have honors and accolades, but there are other memories they carry.
"I'm right here in the front row, and he's right here in the second row," said one local survivor of military sexual assault, pointing to a photograph from her Navy days. "You could work this close to your perpetrator."
To give an idea of how many people military sexual trauma impacts, 450 local veterans are part of the group Women Veterans of the Coastal Bend. In a recent survey, a staggering 85% of those local women said they were sexually assaulted in the military.
Now, six of those survivors are sharing their stories for the first time.
They opened up to KRIS 6 News, but asked that their identities not be revealed. They have all found strength in one another, after each being raped while in the military.
One was the only woman in her unit.
"He knew that I would be doing the reports for the hospital at 4:30 in the morning," she said about her perpetrator. "He pulled me into my OIC's office, and he raped me on his couch."
One says she was date raped.
"The next day I'm in a bathtub, naked. I know something happened, and I knew it was brutal," she said.
One says she was attacked by her supervisor when she was just twenty years old.
"I think you just freeze," she explained. "The next morning, I went back to the ship, and I stayed in my room in the rack all day. Because I didn't know what to do."
But one thing few of these women did was report they had been raped. They say their small work communities and the chain of command made them feel like it was impossible to come forward.
"I was so scared that if I opened my mouth, if I said anything about this shining star, that it was going to be me that was going to get all the repercussions of him abusing me," said one of the veterans.
Being under military contract meant there was no way out.
"If you're out in the middle of the ocean or out in a field in the middle of Iraq, you're stuck there," said another veteran.
So these women continued to work, side-by-side with their attackers.
"Knowing that they're watching you," said a sexual assault survivor. "I wanted to kill guy."
For most of them, it was nearly unbearable.
"I was ready just for it to end and take my own life," one explained.
One in four women in the military is sexually assaulted, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It also happens to 1 in 100 men, who account for 40 percent of reported cases.
However, military sexual assault remains under-reported. A 2015 Department of Defense report shows only a quarter of servicemen and women who have been assaulted came forward.
At Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators Pat Capitan and Jackie Maxwell say the Department of Defense is adding new resources to help sexual assault victims every year.
"I think we see a lot of change happening in our military. I think that we've learned from some of our past history," said Kapitan, a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the Navy.
Together, Kapitan and Maxwell oversee more than 40 sexual assault advocates. They say in recent years the Department of Defense has rolled out new programs to help victims: expediated transfers, protective orders against alleged attackers, and legal counsel.
"Retaliation is not to be tolerated," Maxwell said.
Even after getting out the military, many veterans still dealing with the lasting affects of military sexual trauma.
"Feelings of numbness, shame or guilt. Just lost and confused about what just happened," said Melica Wiley, Military Sexual Trauma Coordinator at the VA Clinic. Veterans organizations, including the VA, offer more resources.
However for survivors, there is little faith that a problem so deeply embedded in the military's history is easily solved.
"This stuff still happens," one of the veterans said. "It is a good old boys club."
For them, the scars run even deeper because they were violated by the very people designated to have their backs in life and death situations. And it happened within the system they put their lives on the line for.
"There's something about loyalty that I learned not to trust," a survivor said. "I would rather be honest than loyal."
If you or someone you know has been affected by military sexual trauma, there are many resources for you.
Can't find something?