CLARKSVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Retired and current female soldiers at Fort Campbell tell News4 Investigates after coming forward with claims of sexual assault, harassment, or stalking by male soldiers, they faced such blowback that it essentially ended their military careers.
Their claims come as the military faces a reckoning in the wake of the 2020 murder of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillien, whose family says she experienced harassment on base before being killed by a fellow soldier.
While two of the three soldiers who agreed to speak with News4 Investigates asked that their identities be hidden because they are still on active duty, Sgt. Jaymee Blankenbaker decided to reveal her identity.
Blankenbaker said she was essentially forced to retire on Feb. 1, as the military deemed her unfit to serve because of her PTSD and depression following rape and stalking.
“I’m being separated against my will per the medical advice,” Blankenbaker said.
Blankenbaker said in 2016, she began to be stalked by a Fort Campbell soldier, who ultimately broke into her house.
Blankenbaker said she reported her concerns to her superior and was disheartened by his response.
“He also asked me, ‘What did you do to lead him on?’” Blankenbaker said.
“What’s that like to have somebody ask you that question?” asked News4 Investigates.
“It makes me feel pretty worthless,” Blankenbaker said.
Blankenbaker said despite raising her concerns, she was then sent on a mission with the same soldier who had broken into her house.
“I told (my superiors) if you send him with me, he will rape me,” she said. “It got to the point that I was terrified I would get killed.”
Blankenbaker said she counts herself fortunate that the military ultimately deemed that soldier unfit for service due to other issues and was removed from the base.
But then, in 2019, Blankenbaker said a military contractor raped her.
Afterward, she said she followed every step female soldiers were told to take, including getting a rape kit.
Blankenbaker said she reported the rape to both the military and civilian authorities and made it clear that she wanted to press charges.
“I let them know, I want my report to go unrestricted. I want justice,” she said.
Blankenbaker said that her rape report “got lost along the way,” and a civilian prosecutor told her DNA evidence didn’t verify her claims.
She said she then sought help through the military, honestly disclosing her PTSD and depression.
Blankenbaker said she was informed that her military career could no longer continue.
“That I am an unfit for duty because of it. (The military indicated) they did everything they could to protect me, but there was nothing they could do. They’re like, sorry about your luck. Here’s your pension.”
Another female soldier, also a sergeant, said she was raped by two different soldiers in two separate instances.
She did not report the rapes initially and realized she would be forced to serve alongside them.
At one point, she said she ended up in a car with one of her rapists, who indicated he was going to crash the vehicle.
“He asked me: ‘Did I feel like dying today?’” the sergeant said.
She said she became so distraught over the rapes. She ended up being hospitalized.
Only when she finally told her family about the rapes did her father report them to the military.
But she said she felt was being punished after coming forward, as once the military launched investigations, one of the soldiers she accused was allowed to stay in their platoon, but she was ordered to remain at home.
“I was the one to stay home. I was the one separated from everybody. You just feel like a piece of trash that the army has thrown away,” the sergeant said.
While a spokesperson for the military could not comment on pending investigations, News4 Investigates independently obtained emails that confirmed both soldiers are under investigation for rape.
In the case of the third female soldier to come forward, she said she was raped by a soldier, only then to learn he had given her a sexually transmitted disease.
“It’s going to be something that affects me for the rest of my life. It’s possibly going to affect me having children,” the soldier said.
She said after seeing how other rape victims have suffered after coming forward, the soldier said she has never reported the rape.
“It just became more beneficial to myself and not put myself on a blacklist,” she said.
“Is that the reality? That you feel you can’t risk coming forward?”
“Yeah,” the soldier said.
In response to our questions about these cases, News4 Investigates received this statement from Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell, Maj. Gen. Brian E. Winski:
“The commanders and leaders of the 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell are fully committed to the prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault. As a community, we collectively focus on how best to provide healing for those affected. We have significant resources to assist victims, and we train, teach, and expect leaders at all levels to provide environments free of isolation and ostracism. We encourage any Soldier who feels isolated or ostracized to report these issues either to the chain of command, their victim advocate, a trusted comrade, the unit chaplain, or the Inspector General so that appropriate action can be taken,” Winksi said.
Penny Gietzen, manager of Fort Campbell’s Sexual Harrassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program, agreed to answer questions from News4 Investigates about the women’s concerns about the reality of coming forward about assaults.
“These soldiers ultimately say – if you report a rape it’s likely going to end your career. And I wonder what you say to that,” asked News4 Investigates.
“That’s a tough question to comment on, Jeremy. All I can say is when someone comes into our SHARP office, we have so many victims’ advocates that are dedicated to assisting soldiers,” Gietzen said.
“What protection is in place to make sure they aren’t ostracized if they come forward?” asked News4 Investigates.
“Our command takes any accusation of ostracism or retaliation or reprisal very seriously. That is the first thing we want to do is address those fears,” Gietzen said.
Fears, both unidentified soldiers say, that became reality and are forcing them to ultimately leave the military.
“I haven’t quite come to terms with it, because it’s all I ever wanted,” the unidentified sergeant said.
News4 Investigates knows this story may serve as a trigger for people, including soldiers, so we’ve compiled a list of resources, including videos from the director of the SHARP program answering specific questions about their resources.
Fort Campbell Installation 24/7 Confidential Hotline: 270-498-4319.
Vet Center (Clarksville) - 615 883-2333
How does the Sharp Program protect soldiers?
How does the Sharp Program address having the change the culture at Fort Campbell about reporting sexual assaults?
How do you encourage soldiers to come forward?