By Staff Sgt. Magen M. Reeves, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 26, 2020
TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- As weather changes and the winter season fades, spring break is just around the corner. Springtime can be a break from schooling or studies and traveling to vacation destinations in search of more temperate weather as opposed to ice and snow still lingering in many parts of the United States.
Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Florida, and the surrounding communities in Bay County are considered one of the nation’s most popular vacation spots from mid-February to mid-April.
Service members, co-workers, friends and family members must stay safe during spring break when so many factors are contributing to a higher chance of accidents and incidents involving driving under the influence charges, domestic disturbances, the unpredictability of Mother Nature and the risks associated with casual sex.
“The main demographic we typically see for spring break include 18 to 24 year olds with an additional margin of 16 to 25 year olds,” said Christine McGill, 325th Fighter Wing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program (SAPR), Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.
Participating in the consumption of alcohol is one of the main topics of debate surrounding the safety of spring break attractions.
“Panama City Beach has tried to make spring break a more family friendly environment by not allowing alcohol on PCB’s White Sandy Beaches,” said McGill. “For the entire month of March, it is illegal to drink alcohol on the beaches, and that also includes the parking lot area. Beach police are not playing games.”
Those caught will incur jail time and be fined.
All adults over the age of 21 who are legally allowed to consume alcohol should follow safe practices in doing so, including deciding what the limit is before the drinking begins, eating a meal beforehand , avoiding binge drinking, and always maintaining positive control over the drink. Leaving a drink unattended or simply not paying attention makes an easy target for a predator to slip drugs into an open cup.
“At risk locations aren’t just beaches,” said McGill. “We also see (incidents) happen at hotels, restaurants, bars and other socializing places, and the parking lots of those locations.”
Beach attractions also have other risks including severe sunburns, dehydration, tide changes and rip currents.
“I have seen several cases of all three, especially when spending the day at the beach,” said Master Sgt. Jake Arbogast, the 325th Comptroller Squadron and 325th Fighter Wing Staff Agencies first sergeant. “Bringing a sunshade along with plenty of water and sunscreen is a great way to battle exposure to the elements.”
“We live in an area of high humidity which can still cause dehydration and heat stroke, even when not in direct sunlight,” he continued. “It's important to be preemptive in your battle against the sun and heat and equally important to recognize the signs and symptoms of dehydration and heatstroke, and to seek medical attention if you or anyone you are with is experiencing them.”
Beachgoers must observe and obey the Beach Flag Warning System.
“The most important thing when headed to the beach is to pay attention to warning flags that identify water conditions and also approved swimming locations [because] at some beaches the swimming areas are marked off,” said Arbogast.
A purple flag indicates a marine pest, such as jellyfish, stingrays or dangerous fish, has been spotted and swimmers must be careful. A green flag means low hazard and a yellow flag means light surf or currents are present and swimmers should be cautious. A red flag means high hazard and a double-red flag signals the beach is closed because it is too dangerous. Those who choose to ignore the red flags are subject to fines or being arrested without exceptions.
“Even the best swimmer can be taken down by rip currents,” said Arbogast. “Those signs are there for safety. Ignoring them can land you in trouble with the police or worse, in the emergency room.”
The misuse of alcohol and disregarding flag warnings are not the only ways a spring breaker can find themselves in a dangerous situation.
Casual sex can also become a much greater issue if not handled properly. This is where communication and having a plan is crucial. Consensual sex must be communicated between two adults prior to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“Our standard is that an individual cannot be substantially incapacitated,” said McGill. “Indicators that someone is not able to consent to sex is to be so drunk that they are stumbling, slurring words or blacking out.”
If a situation does happen, or if an Airman feels like something happened that they may not fully remember and they are looking for support, there are multiple agencies on base that can help.
“SAPR is one of those response programs,” said McGill. “We are not a part of the legal office or the mental health office. We focus on responding to an individual who needs help or they are looking for someone to talk to about what happened.”
McGill and her team also help victims navigate the different types of assault reporting. Victims who are eligible for SAPR services include active duty, guardsman, reserves, dependents over the age of 18, and Air Force civilian personnel.
“Restricted reporting is strictly between victim and the SAPR office,” said McGill.
According to McGill, the positive side to restrictive reporting is that it allows a victim some time to think and process what happened before they decide if they want an investigation, a;; while still getting medical and mental health treatment.
“Unrestricted reporting yields an official investigation which can involve base authorities or Bay County authorities,” said McGill.
According to McGill, one of the ways a person can help make sure they are engaging in consensual sex with another adult is to communicate.
“Have a communication plan and discuss it before the drinking starts,” said McGill. “75 percent of cases we see [where there was a question] of consent involve alcohol.”
“Talk to the partner before, set expectations and understand that even during sex desires can change and you have to stop,” she continued. “If you don’t stop, that’s what’s considered a sexual assault.”
Additionally, the reality is that most sexual assaults occur where the perpetrator is not a stranger.
“Perpetrators can be domestic violence [offenders], spouses, co-workers, and people in positions of authority,” said McGill.
Gender is also not a limiting factor when it comes to sexual assault.
“Men can be perpetrators, but they are absolutely not the only ones, females can definitely be the (aggressor) as well,” said McGill. “The SAPR program is seeing a rise in the number of reports being made by males as the victim of an assault.”
Sexual assault can also be perpetrated by any gender to any gender; male to female, female to female, female to male, or male to male.
“Red flags that people can sometime pick up on included someone else invading their space, very insistent in purchasing drinks, (unnecessary) touching, or asking very personal questions,” said McGill.
“In these cases we always encourage people to have a plan, and then to have another plan,” she continued. “If you’re going to go out, make sure (a friend) knows where you are and what time you should be back.”
The 325th FW SAPR office can be reached at 850-283-8192 or at the 24/7 hotline at 850-625-1231 for questions or to make a report.