Victim Impact Statement
The passage you are about to read contains disturbing content and may trigger anxiety or flashbacks in those who have experienced sexual assault, abuse or harassment. Many process trauma through expression in written dialogue, visual art or some other creative medium. Survivors should be aware of the following content and make an informed decision before continuing. ❤
Jury Members, Your Honor…
You’ve already heard my experience and I’m not fond of repeating it, so instead I ask you to consider how this has impacted my life since PCSing from Turkey. It wasn’t a moment or a brief chapter, it was an awakening that permeates my perception of the Air Force every day I put on the uniform. And tragically, I’m not alone in sharing one of the most degrading experiences you can face as an E-3 at her first assignment. I lost sleep then and I lose sleep now (as an NCO) knowing leaders can act this way because of the perception that their middle and lower ranks will turn a blind eye. Senior Master Sgt. Zier thought he was above accountability and the reality is… he served his entire career, even being selected for the rank of Chief Master Sergeant, while walking unchecked and unscathed.
One question I was asked multiple times throughout the investigation is if I felt Senior Zier was still a good leader despite these “isolated incidents.” These behaviors do not align with ideals of a good father, a good role model or a good leader. This question makes me angry and nauseous.
I’ve had plenty of time to reflect over the course of three PCSes, six supervisors and four other superintendent leadership styles. I eventually realized Zier’s go-to strategy is to manipulate and deceive. To twist and contort minds into knots that take years to unravel. So my answer to the question -“Is he still a good leader despite these incidents?”- is emphatically no. He is not a good leader, rather, this is how he chooses to abuse his power. He taught me superintendents can facilitate toxic work environments rather than be the ones to correct them. He knew alcohol was the perfect alibi in our institution for higher ranks to live consequence-free regardless of their routine choice to overindulge and overstep boundaries. I learned damage to government property only applies to metal scraps and weaponry, not the violated flesh or bruised self-worth of an Airman.
What happened in Pamukkale didn’t start and stop that night. This rendered me paranoid of every other NCO and SNCO I’ve met since. My ability to trust the chain of command was immediately slaughtered and I was left to pick up the pieces of what serving in the military was supposed to be and reconcile it with the bleak reality before me. I survived by hiding my hurt and confusion. Suffering in silence seemed like the safest option, but I didn’t anticipate the uphill battle of learning how to cope with the resulting anxiety, depression and other trauma-related effects from assault.
When you’re a survivor, the world doesn’t stop spinning… life just goes on in an eerie way. You keep busy and try to forget as best as you can, though it never truly leaves you. I’ve asked myself so many times; what if I came forward today? Would they be angry I waited? Is what happened less relevant as time passes? Do my wingmen ever think about the trip? Does he think about the trip? Does his wife know? Are his children safe? What if we work together again? What can I do to protect other females? Does my pain matter? Should I just let it go? These questions create a prison in a person’s mind. For me, it became a cage with over a thousand tally marks clawed into the floor.
The crippling self-doubt had me hoping for a long time that it was JUST me. Second-guessing everything, not just about that night but about my job performance as an Airman and my integrity as a human being keeping this toxic secret. I think about the times his wife had checked in on me, offered to help decorate my dorm room and invited me to their dining room table for supper. Did he exploit our friendship knowing I wouldn’t want to hurt her? What if this is the product of successful gaslighting and victim blaming? And the bravest question of all – what if I deserve justice? Maybe the Air Force can’t always be one big happy family because some people get too comfortable getting too close and feel too powerful to be stopped. This secret is now off my conscious, but I don’t feel relief. Instead, I begin to face the guilt of not coming forward sooner.
Reporting a predator does not ruin their lives, it seeks justice for the lives of victims. Reporting a predator does not damage their reputation, it makes it more accurate. Reporting a predator does not harm their family, it arms them with the truth. Reporting a predator aligns our core values in the United States Air Force of always having ‘Integrity First.’ I never wanted to be sitting in that chair, I never wanted this to be part of my story and I never wanted this to be the reality of our military.
Being able to survive, and eventually thrive in my career, doesn’t mean what happened that day will ever be okay. I am not sorry for going on an office trip. I am not sorry for going down to the hot tub. I am not sorry for feeling uncomfortable. I am not sorry for turning away. I am not sorry for being upset. I am not sorry for seeking guidance. I am not sorry for setting boundaries. I am not sorry for continuing to recover. And I am not sorry for reporting unrestricted. A person should not have to scream NO for their presence, their body and their lack of consent to be respected. Finally, I am not sorry for asking the standards to be enforced. I want to have confidence in knowing my chain of command is about their people, and are here to grow us – not molest us.
Those fears need to be addressed, for myself, and the 300,000 other airmen in our branch that he has had access to every single day. We can call a Chief a leader based on stripes, but regardless of smooth talking, networks of influential buddies, or fully stacked ribbon racks… true leadership is accountability no matter the rank. I love what we envision our Air Force to be and my work continues long after trial to make it a place Airmen can trust. A safer institution for survivors to heal. An organization that stops empowering these predators. And I believe this work is not mine alone, it’s ours. Thank you for your time.
On 13 August 2020 the jury found Senior Master Sgt. Jeremy M. Zier
GUILTY of abusive sexual contact and willful dereliction of duty in U.S. v. Zier.
On 14 August 2020 he was sentenced to reduction in rank to the grade of E-7.
#MeToo #WeAreVanessa #YesAllWomen #BelieveSurvivors #TimesUp #ToTheGirls #SAPR
Posted 14 August 2020 by SSgt Cambria Lynn Ferguson, Combat Broadcast Journalist, USAF
I would like to give a special thanks to my Special Victims’ Counsel, Capt. Teeple, for her protection, guidance and hard work to keep me informed and prepared throughout the reporting and court martial process. I would also like to thank my Victim’s Advocate, Susie, for always calling and making sure I’m not alone in this – even through COVID-19 isolation. Lastly, I would like to thank my trial counsel Capt. Coleman and Maj. Malek for putting together a strong prosecution. MSgt Zier’s two guilty verdicts are a direct result of their efforts and shared passion for victims to have justice.
• AFPC (2019, November 25). 19E9 Chief Master Sergeant Worldwide Selects List. Retrieved August 14, 2020 from https://s3.amazonaws.com/static.militarytimes.com/assets/pdfs/1574697296.pdf
• Castro et al. (2020, April 21). LGBTQ military service members at higher risk of sexual harassment, assault, stalking. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from https://today.oregonstate.edu/news/lgbtq-military-service-members-higher-risk-sexual-harassment-assault-stalking
• Docket & Trial Results (2020, July 21). U.S. v. Senior Master Sergeant J ZIER. Retrieved July 21, 2020 from https://legalassistance.law.af.mil
• McCullough, A. (2020, April 20). USAF sees highest number of sexual reports in 14 years. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://www.airforcemag.com/usaf-sees-highest-number-of-sexual-assault-reports-in-14-years
• Myers, M. (2020, April 30). A culture that fosters sexual assaults and sexual harassment persists despite prevention efforts, a new Pentagon study shows. Retrieved July 15, 2020, from https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2020/04/30/a-culture-that-fosters-sexual-assaults-and-sexual-harassment-persists-despite-prevention-efforts-a-new-pentagon-study-shows