SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
When offered the opportunity to participate in Green Dot, Airman 1st Class Krystal Conkling thought it would be an opportunity to make a positive impact on her first base.
What she didn’t realize? Her training would also allow her to confront memories of a difficult and life-changing event from her childhood.
At about 7 years of age in Arizona, on a seemingly normal day after school, Conkling and her younger sister, Kendra Ally, had permission to play with a girl who lived down the street from their home.
“My sister was kind of a ‘girly-girl’ who liked to play with dolls and stuff, so she and the other little girl went into the other room to play. But I was a real tomboy who liked to play sports and was always hanging out with the guys. So I was in the living room with her brother and an older boy who I later found out was the girl’s cousin,” said Conkling.
At first, the group just played video games until they decided to start playing tag. The game seemed innocent enough until Conkling found herself pinned down by the older boy.
“He started to feel me up. And then he tells the little brother ‘hey feel this, it feels great,’ and I froze. I didn’t know what to do,” said Conkling.
Eventually, she screamed for her sister.
“I heard my sister call and when I went out there, they stopped. I was so young that I didn’t really know what was going on,” said Ally.
When the boys got off of her, Conkling immediately ran home crying. The experience was something she didn’t want to tell anyone - not even her parents. Eventually, a friend convinced her to let her family know a day later.
“So I told my parents, we called the cops and the cops said they couldn’t do anything because he didn’t live there. They couldn’t find him,” said Conkling.
Following their lack of ability to find justice, Conkling suppressed the memory and continued on with her life.
“For me personally, I blocked it out of my memory that this even happened. I never went and actually sought counseling or talked to anybody. I just remember thinking that I did something wrong, that I did this because I’m a tomboy and I like to hang out with the guys and play. If I wouldn’t have been with them like that, then it wouldn’t have happened.” Conkling said.
After enlisting, Conkling eventually started taking Air Force-mandated briefings for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and was introduced to the Green Dot program. Conkling had to accept realities she wouldn’t before.
“I remember watching the (training) videos. They really started to bring back the memories that I feel like I had completely blocked out. They were saying ‘it’s not your fault,’ and that we didn’t do anything wrong. It really got to me,” she said.
Conkling began thinking about that day in Arizona and what could have happened had her sister not intervened.
“(The training) hit home because everything that they talked about is exactly what happened. If my sister didn’t intervene and do something, I don’t know what else would have happened. And nobody taught her, she just did it all on her own,” said Conkling.
Ally explained her desire to step in was instinctive. She had to be there for her sister.
“You don’t want to see anything bad happen to anybody that you love – whether your sister or a friend. When you see something happening, step in right away, don’t just stop to ask questions. Stepping in to protect your loved one is what’s most important,” said Ally.
Conkling finally decided to face her past, share her story and join the Green Dot movement.
Ally looks up to her older sister for stepping out openly with her past hardship.
“I am proud of her for being brave enough to tell her story. A lot of people go through similar situations and are afraid to share their experiences. My hope is that when people hear Krystal’s story, it will give them courage to help them speak up and tell their story and hopefully prevent similar situations,” said Ally.
Conkling’s decision to join Green Dot is not only to support Air Force needs, but to help create a culture change at Schriever and so on.
“Green Dot’s important because abuse prevention is something that everyone needs. It’s giving people the tools to actually do something when they see something. We’re hoping that by doing this training, we’ll give people tools to really believe in (the program) and want to change the culture.”
Looking to the future, Conkling envisions a military where issues of power-based personal violence, such as child abuse, sexual violence, partner violence‚ stalking, bullying or elder abuse, are non-existent.
Conkling explained, “When I have children and if they want to join the military, I want them to come home and say ‘mom, or dad, you had to deal with that when you were in?’ And that’s my hope, that it will change and we won’t have so many issues that we have today.”