Deskins: Military leadership committed to fixing sexual harassment, assault

  • Published
  • By Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Michelle Gonzalez
  • National Guard Bureau
Bare walls dominate the office décor, evidence that the newest tenant has recently moved in.

"I'm still getting used to it," says Air Force Brig. Gen. Dawne Deskins about her promotion to brigadier general last month.

For Deskins -- the sixth woman promoted to general in the New York National Guard -- spearheading the Air National Guard's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program for the 100,000 Air National Guard members is the latest opportunity in a 30-year career.

"It's an exciting time to be in this program. It's a terrible thing that's happening within our ranks, and we've got to get our arms around it, because if we don't, someone else will. I know our leadership all the way up is committed to fixing this."

With her experience as a commander, Deskins was attracted to the opportunity to work as the special assistant to Air Force Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, the director of the Air National Guard, and influence the program at a higher level.

"As a commander, there was nothing more important to me than taking care of the people under my command. I held that responsibility very closely and very dear to my heart that I was supposed to create an environment where people could come safely to work and felt that they would not be in any kind of hostile work environment."

Deskins' military experience has been extremely positive and harassment free. "I want every Airman to have that experience," she says. "I bring a perspective of what I know things should look like."

Her goals: improve training for commanders at all levels, improve the process of reporting across the Guard and improve success with local law enforcement.

"Our availability to train people is a little bit different," Deskins says referring to the drill status of Guard members. "Ultimately we need to educate all of our Air National Guard leaders so that they can better implement these programs by understanding the nature of this crime, the people who commit it and the impact on the survivors so that we can support them."

Deskins plans to look at the similarities of reporting across the Army, Air Force and the Guard to integrate reporting and improve the process.

"Ultimately, I would hope that as we go through our climate assessments, that we'll see trust in the system," Deskins says on how she would measure the success in the program. "That we will find that eventually reports will go down because we've had an effect at the culture level."

Leading the Air National Guard's sexual assault prevention program at a time where sexual assault in the military has garnered national attention, Deskins is carving a moment in the program's history.

But it is not the first time Deskins is part of history: She helped coordinate the military response following the Sept. 11 attacks and the official 9/11 Commission report credits Deskins and the personnel she led that day with responding well to a confusing set of circumstances.

Her transition from active duty to the Air National Guard came in the mid-90s, at a time when air defense sector missions were being transitioned under the Guard's jurisdiction. An assignment opportunity in air defense became available in New York. Taking her family into consideration, the reductions taking place at that time, and being able to use a honed skill set, the opportunity to join the Guard was a good fit.

Deskins doesn't limit her opportunities.

"Gen. Clarke asked me if I was willing to look at an opportunity outside of New York. My response was 'yes, as long as I can make a difference.'"

And by taking charge of the Air National Guard's SAPR program she can make a difference.