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PSAB ‘Breaks the Silence’ through Spoken Word event

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Stephani Barge
  • 378th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

A tent glows with welcoming hues of blue and purple light, as performers step onto an impromptu stage. Supportive snaps and claps radiate from an abundant audience as Airmen from Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, share their most vulnerable thoughts and feelings during a Spoken Word event March 23, 2023.

A thoughtful hush overtakes the room as the final performer exits the stage and Brig. Gen. William Betts, 378th Air Expeditionary Wing commander, steps up for final remarks. He summarizes the event and its importance by examining the lyrics of musician Paul Simon’s song, “The Sound of Silence”. A fitting metaphor for the concluding event of Team PSAB’s Break the Silence Campaign.

…And in the naked light, I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never shared
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence…

The hour-long event offered service members the opportunity to share personal stories, poetry and other creative mediums to express themselves and address topics that would normally go undiscussed in an effort to disturb the sound of silence.

“Spoken Word Poetry [events] are a place where your voice belongs only to you, to tell your truth,” said Capt. Lindsey Medina, 378th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron operations officer and Spoken Word host. “It was the perfect way to end the Break the Silence Campaign because it put into practice what it was all about: continuing a dialogue on topics that are difficult to discuss and creating a community where it’s safe to build trust and a shared understanding of each other.”

The Break the Silence Campaign started in October of 2022, as a way to initiate a conversation with the base populous on new sexual harassment reporting procedures and victim advocacy services, as well as to provide a safe and encouraging space to talk about trauma, sexual harassment and assault.

“The BTS Campaign was born out of Team PSAB members’ conversations regarding the danger that, when leaders are perceived as staying silent on issues, it breeds mistrust, degrades faith in the system and influences victims to feel alone in their fight,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jessica McWain, 378th AEW command chief. “The team envisioned a variety of events focused on courageous storytelling, with opportunities for personal reflection and rituals to foster both healing and connectedness.”

Prior to the Spoken Word event, the Campaign consisted of a dining facility gratitude wall in November, a Winter Solstice ‘Rise from the Ashes’ bonfire ceremony in December, and a ‘Let Your Light Shine’ stargazing event in January. February revolved around the distribution of informational materials that provides a simplified visualization of the reporting process and potential options.

“The products the base legal team, Sexual Assault and Prevention team [and I] put together give commanders and victims the ability to better understand processes, while giving victims the ability to understand their choices.” said Senior Master Sgt. April Spilde, 378th AEW Special Staff senior enlisted leader and Equal Opportunity director.

Spilde was also a performer in the Spoken Word event and shared a poem of her own creation, which voiced the struggles of recognizing where a woman’s true power and authority comes from.

“To be able to articulate how I feel in a poetic way has been one of the best revelations I've had through this, and it’s been a great growth opportunity,” said Spilde. “Sharing personal examples of these kinds of traumas creates an environment where silence is no longer the norm, and people are emboldened to speak up and challenge toxic cultures.”

As the sun sets on the BTS Campaign, the tough conversations are encouraged to continue with Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month coming in April, and throughout the year, as vulnerable discussions become a more normalized part of U.S. Air Force culture.

“Breaking the silence requires more than senior leaders talking in formal settings,” said McWain. “Action taken out loud and together helps survivors take back their power and shows anyone who feels alone that the wingmen standing next to them are ready and unafraid to confront the toughest issues and unites our team to take steps to fight the good fight.”

The SAPR team can be contacted at 318-460-7272 (SARC) during duty hours. They are also on call 24/7 and can be reached via phone, Signal or WhatsApp at +966-50-176-5483.