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Gaslight Reboot Parts III and IV: my experience with sexual harassment as a member of the US Coast Guard

Skyla Luckey on set playing the lead of “Flesh Wound,” which premieres in 2018. Photo courtesy of Skyla Luckey.

Back: click here for parts I and II of “Gaslight Reboot: my experience with sexual harassment as a member of the US Coast Guard.”

Part III

Suddenly my problems didn’t exist. All I heard and felt was an unexpected loss. My mom sobbed into the phone. At this point, I don’t know if I jumped out of my body or into my body, but all I could say is, “Isaac did what?”

Isaac was a handsome 19-year-old with dirty blonde hair, and he was in college for broadcasting. He was a friend of our family’s. I remember giving him encouragement to be a radio personality because that was his dream. He was the kind of person that would help anybody. He had a cheerful personality and he was fun to hang out with.

She gave me the funeral details, and I took emergency leave and drove to Mississippi so I could be at his funeral and offer support to loved ones. I didn’t ask why he did what he did. I understood why he did what he did if his pain was as great as mine. I knew that I loved my mom too much for her to deal with two suicides in one night. I loved my mom and friends back home so I had to be there for support.

I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my lifetime. This funeral had the most attendees I’d ever seen. It was at a funeral home on the side of Highway 49 in Florence, Mississippi, and the parking lot overflowed with cars onto the side of the highway. He was loved, and his friends and family were heartbroken. I was still in shock. It broke my heart as I stood inside of that funeral home and watched his mom, sisters and other family members shed tears over his casket. All I could think is, “I almost did this to my mama on the same day Isaac took his life.” Isaac may have taken his own life but he saved mine.

I got into my car and turned right, heading northward on Highway 49. I turned on the radio and “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. came on. I started crying because that song had so much significance to my life at that moment. I didn’t feel so alone for the first time in a long time. It was at that moment that I told God that if He wanted me to keep holding on, then He was going to have to work a miracle and renew me with strength. I smiled because I knew He heard me. I felt joy because I knew I would return to CG STA Yankeetown and kill them with kindness to show them I was taking back my power.

It was wonderful. The upbeat personality I had returned with threw them off guard. They didn’t like the power I displayed so they tried a little harder, and I killed their egos a little more by being kinder and more upbeat. I had never stopped documenting the unethical behavior. At this point, the notebook had just a few blank pages left, since it was almost entirely filled up with proof of their lack of ethics. The day, the date, the time, the location, the persons and the year written beside every recorded incident. I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do with all of this, but I trusted that God would show me.

I attended a TAPS {transitional assistance program} at Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater shortly after my return from the funeral. Yankeetown was the beginning process of “medically” discharging me because of my back issues. Of course it wasn’t because of my back injuries that they kept causing with their retaliating behavior. No, it was because they wanted to silence my voice, and in their minds, they could do that – if they got me out of the Coast Guard.

I thank God for my paths crossing with Lori, a Coast Guard civilian employee in the United States Coast Guard during that TAPs seminar. We were on a break and she and I happened to be seated at the same table. She looked at me and said with a smile, “So Luckey why are you at TAPS? You look a little young to be retiring.” Like verbal vomit, it all came out. I told her about the constant unethical behavior at Yankeetown. I told her that I had it all documented, but I didn’t know who I was supposed to contact. She told me to call the Coast Guard Civil Rights Office. That was the first time I heard about the Coast Guard Civil Rights Office. She handed me their contact number on a sheet of paper. She gave me her number as well in case I needed additional guidance. Gratitude for this woman filled my insides.

I called the Coast Guard Civil Rights Office and they contacted Salls and told him he had 48 hours to fix all this unethical behavior that had been reported to them. They called me two days later and asked if the situation had been taken care of. The hell if I knew. Did this magically cure their male chauvinism and misogynistic tendencies and male herding? Probably not. All that mattered to me is that they were moving closer to being under full radar. So I said, “Yes, it’s been taken care of.” Round two of retaliation. Documented.

I started having severe panic attacks at CG STA Yankeetown, but I wasn’t going to open up to the shipmates at CG STA Yankeetown about this because of their obvious love and concern for me. I kept panic attacks to myself for over six months. I did all I could to suppress them. I would get shortness of breath out of nowhere and my heart would race. I felt clammy. No matter what I did, I couldn’t catch my breath during these attacks and sometimes they would last for hours. My mouth would get very dry. They started to occur every day. They were so intense at times that I felt like I would die. On one of those panic attack days, a female shipmate, Petty Officer Larson who had seniority over me, walked into the watch room and said, “Luckey, you don’t look so good. I think you need to go to the doctor.”

I said, “No, I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong.”

She said, “No, your face is turning blue. I can tell that something is not right with you. Go to your doctor right now, and take the rest of the day off. Call me and let me know what your doctor says.”

I couldn’t argue with a higher up, so I obeyed her orders and went to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed me with panic attack disorder and prescribed medication to me.

The doctor’s orders were that I was to stay home for the next two days for rest and for me to see how I responded to the medication.

The very next day CG STA Yankeetown had scheduled a change-of-command ceremony so all week everyone had cleaned and organized the station for the perfect change-of-command ceremony. Senior Chief Stalls would be relieved of his watch at Yankeetown by someone else and he would transfer elsewhere. Over a hundred people were expected to be in attendance. At the beginning of the week, they told me that I would be standing watch during the ceremony. I found that odd because, at this point in my Coast Guard career, I had seniority over non-rates that had arrived months after I did. Why weren’t one of them assigned to stand watch? Why weren’t one of the qualified Coast Guard Auxiliarists assigned to stand watch? Oh, yes. Because they wanted to continue to isolate me in every way possible.

Skyla Luckey celebrating with a friend in St. Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Skyla Luckey.

I called Larson and told her that the doctor ordered me to stay home for the next couple of days because of my condition and the new medication. She fully supported doctor‘s orders but the second guy in command there, Chief Crawford, considered himself to be above doctor’s orders and held a self-delusion that he knew more about my condition than the doctor. When he heard that I wouldn’t be there the next day for the change-of-command ceremony, he told Larson he didn’t care about doctor’s orders. ‘Call Luckey back and tell her she better be there to stand watch for the change-of-command ceremony.’  Even though, at this time in the Coast Guard, it was against policy for a person to be under the influence of medication and stand watch at the same time. You might as well have a drunk person talking back to boaters in distress and plotting their ops and position on a nautical map so that the Coast Guard boat crew knows where to respond. But if they wanted me to stand watch under the influence of an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication, then so be it. To new beginnings! To Luckey standing watch under the influence of medication and to a new leader. It’s going to be a wonderful day. Documented.

I showed up the next day and I looked spiffy in my tropical blue uniform with shoes shined as shiny as Fred Astaire’s. I was so happy to be standing watch on such an honorable day “under the influence” of medication. I assumed my position as watch stander and made sure to wait at least two beats before I responded to anyone who said my name when they walked into the watch room. After all, I was “under the influence,” wasn’t I?

“Luckey,” Petty Officer Layton said to me. No reaction from me. I hadn’t waited my two beats yet to turn around and respond in a doped up manner.

“Luckey!” One more beat. Ok, now I’ll respond.

“What? You talking to me?”

“YES, LUCKEY. Pipe ‘All Hands lay to the front for beginning of ceremony’.”

I liked that he had an upset reaction that I’m not my usual prompt self when standing watch. I wanted his upset reaction to linger so I continued to ignore him.

“LUCKEY!” No, not just yet. “LUCK-EY!”

“Oh, right. Yeah, got it. Roger that! I’m on it.”

Moments later Petty Officer Layton and a couple of other of his homeboy shipmates reappeared in the watch room and one said, “Luckey, how long are you going to be on that medication?” I scratched my neck and remained oblivious. He hurriedly walked over and stood at the side of my chair. “Luckey, how long are you going to be on that medication?”

First of all, why did everyone at this station know the results about my personal medical visit? But since they did, I used it to my advantage that day.  

“Well, I guess for the rest of my life. She said I have some sort of disorder. I don’t know if it’s curable.”

“Well, shit. Just stay right here all day and stand watch, ok…Luckey!”

“I’m on it. I’ve got this. I am the queen of watch,” especially under the influence of medication and going against Coast Guard policies because I’ve been ordered to go against Coast Guard policies. Documented.

The ceremony began, and I continued my watch duties. As it wrapped up, I’d not been relieved for a single minute on watch to go out and meet the new leader of our station or be a part of this in any way. I guess I just wasn’t worth it even though I had been in an exclusive relationship with a Turkish man for four months at the time.

I had them trained to say my name twice since I was a little on the incoherent side this day. “LUCK-EY…LUCK-EY!”

I slowly turned around in my chair to face him, and I responded with a raised eyebrow.

“Pipe ‘All Hands lay to the front parking lot for pictures’. Got it?”

I responded with a thumbs up and turned back around to my microphone that is a permanent fixture in any watch room because that’s what we used to speak to vessels and to make announcements on the loud speaker at the station. Now, what did he ask me to say? I mean under the conditions I could have heard him say anything. That medication just had me so loopty-loo. I know what he didn’t say and that was, “Luckey, we’re going to get an Auxiliarist to relieve you for a few moments so you can come and take pictures with us.”

Oh, yes. I remember what he told me to pipe over the loudspeaker. I leaned towards the microphone and pressed the key to generate my professional radio voice over the station’s loud speakers. “Now, All Hands getting laid, lay to the front parking lot. All Hands getting laid, lay to the front parking lot.” I’m so glad it’s in Coast Guard policy to repeat things twice over the loudspeaker just in case they didn’t hear me the first time. It was very important that the 100 people in attendance heard that announcement. I wouldn’t want them to miss such an important opportunity of commemoration. I sat back in my chair and plopped my shiny Astaire shoes up on the desk and waited with the back of my head rested in my hands as I leaned back in the chair.

Four shipmates rushed into the watch room as if they were to respond to a boater in distress. Layton said “LUCKEY, WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? You are relieved of watch. Go up to the female duty room and sleep that medication off and then go home.”

I said, “No, you guys go out there and take your pictures because I’m the only one that can stand watch around here. It’s important that you guys get out there and take those photos with the unit and our new leader.”

“LUCKEY. GO UP THERE NOW AND SLEEP IT OFF.”

So I went up to the female duty room and called my connection, Lori.

“Hey, Luckey. What’s up?”

In a hushed voice, I spoke into my phone, “Not only did they go against doctor’s orders for me to stay home today, but they also made me stand watch under the influence of antidepressants.”

“I’m calling Sector, Luckey.”  

This poor new OINC had no clue of the responsibilities and scumbags he just inherited. The following day, they got a call from Sector St. Petersburg (their higher-ups because Sector St. Petersburg does run the show in all of District 7). Sector leaders couldn’t believe they had me stand watch under the influence, and that they went against doctor’s orders. They ordered them to never have me stand watch again. Perfect. Just what I hoped. Next, they’ll get tired of walking on pins and needles so I’ll just continue to kill them with kindness and wait for the day that this new OINC calls me into his office and tells me to pack my bags and move to St. Petersburg and report to Sector St. Petersburg for duty. That’s exactly what happened about three months later.

 

Part IV

About a month before my move to St. Petersburg, the Coast Guard allowed active duty members to break their contract without getting into any trouble if they wanted out of the Coast Guard. This was because the Coast Guard was in some sort of major debt. Williams took advantage of it and got out. I never saw her again. Layton thought this would be an opportune situation to convince me to take the easy way out of the Coast Guard.

“You know, Luckey, when I was stationed on one of them cutters, there was a friend of mine who hurt his arm and his medical discharge took three years. You just never know how long they’re going to take. You might wanna think about taking advantage of this opportunity so you can go on with your life. Go back to college. Go do acting. Go do whatever it is you wanna do.”

If I took the easy way out then they’d win. I’d walk away from the Coast Guard without any benefits, and they’d start raping female shipmates. If I left then that would prevent change. This sick game was far from over, and I wouldn’t allow myself to forfeit.

I moved to St. Petersburg and reported to duty at Sector St. Petersburg. Shipmates at Sector treated me with caution. They might have secretly labeled me as crazy because they refused to believe the Yankeetown occurrences because they liked to live in that pretend fantasy Coast Guard world or perhaps they feared me because they knew I didn’t tolerate anyone’s shit so they didn’t want to piss me off. They never asked me what happened or how I was doing so I’m going to assume that they based their beliefs off of rumors.

Skyla Luckey after she transferred to USCG Sector St. Petersburg, pictured with friend Miriam Lyssette at Sector St. Petersburg in 2010. Photo courtesy of Skyla Luckey.

Something I didn’t know when I left Yankeetown is that another female non-rate would be filling my no-shit taking shoes. Her name is Butler. She arrived about seven months after I, fresh out of basic training. I saw that she saw what had been going on there. Other non-rates saw it too. There were a couple of them that said, “I’ve seen the way they treat you, Luckey. I can’t believe you have to deal with this every day. You are a strong person to deal with this.”  

About a month after I left Yankeetown, Butler gave me a call and in a troubled voice, she said, “Luckey, since you left things have gotten worse. Smith was raped by Layton.”

“How do you know this,” I asked.

“Because she told me. I know about it and so does Coachley.”

“Has she reported it to the police or to any Coast Guard officials who can actually do something about it?”

“No,” she said. “Coachley said if I didn’t report it then he would.”

“You know what to do, Butler. Call Sector and call the Coast Guard Civil Rights Office. I know this isn’t easy, but if you don’t report it then this will continue.”

She took a deep breath. “I know it’s what I should do. But ever since you left, they’re now treating me the way they treated you, and it’ll just get worse.”

“Are you going to be able to look yourself in the mirror if you don’t report this?”

“I’ll report it, Luckey. Don’t worry. Yankeetown is a total nightmare.”

“I know. I was in that nightmare for 11 months. I’m here for you if you need anything. You are welcome to come to St. Petersburg and spend a couple of days here if you need a break from that atmosphere.”

“Layton has allowed so much to go to his head. The other day he stated, ‘I run Coast Guard Station Yankeetown and everybody obeys me here. What I say goes.’ He even said that he was going to expose Luckey and get you in trouble because he thinks you never had back issues.”

I burst into laughter and said, “He doesn’t have the power to do anything as far as I’m concerned. First of all, he’s the most uneducated person I’ve ever met because my medical records are protected by HIPAA and only my doctors, my Coast Guard attorney and the Coast Guard medical board have the authority to view my files. What is this guy going to do? Drive to headquarters and say, ‘I just want to let you guys know that Luckey never had back problems and I’m basing this off of my uneducated Louisiana upbringing?’ Oh, please. By all means. Let him attempt to get me in trouble. No, if anyone is going to get anyone in trouble, it will be me getting him in trouble just for thinking he has that much power over me.” The words that came out of his mouth were a big mistake.

Butler did what she had to do, and I documented our conversation just to add to the two notebooks I already had that included a lot of Layton ‘s unethical behavior.  

A couple of weeks later, Commander Jacoby at Sector St. Petersburg informed me that CG STA Yankeetown was now under investigation by the Coast Guard Investigative Services. He told me that if I wanted to share my experience there with CGIS that I was more than welcome to because this would help them in the investigation. I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. I’d been wanting something like this to happen for a while, and I’d been standing up to these enlisted chumps in order for something like this to happen so that change would happen. I told Commander Jacoby that I would like to speak with CGIS and share my notebooks with them. He arranged for them to meet with me in a safe place at Sector St. Petersburg the following week. That weekend, I drove to Mississippi and I arranged for my friend and celebrated author of “Civil Liberties: A Beginner’s Guide,” Dr. Tom Head, to copy everything from the notebooks onto a Word document. I trusted Tom, and he is an advocate for change so, therefore, I felt safe with him reading about what all had happened. I couldn’t look through those notebooks because it would have been too much for me to relive at the time. I sat next to Tom with a cup of coffee in my hand as he transferred everything from notebook to Word document. I looked over everything and sent it to CGIS to look over prior to our meeting.

At the meeting with CGIS they said, “Luckey, we were surprised to see what all you experienced at Yankeetown because it was a lot. No person should have experienced all the things you did for as long as you did. You’re a strong person, Luckey and it’s because of people like you that helps us do our job and make sure scumbags like the ones at Yankeetown are no longer serving in the Coast Guard.”

Layton was court-martialed and discharged from the Coast Guard along with another homeboy shipmate of his. As for me, I ended up developing post-traumatic stress and feared men. My panic attacks continued as well as my back problems. I was medically discharged from the United States Coast Guard on January 25, 2011. Less than a month later, I went back into radio as a traffic reporter for iHeartMedia in Tampa and became a news helicopter photographer for Bay News 9. I had long ago lost my cocky attitude so I wasn’t worried about it returning since I was back in the spotlight. I also became an actor and started landing lead roles in films. I graduated from the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg with a BA in mass communications with a concentration in journalism in 2012. As I write this, I’m less than a month away from graduating from USF-St. Pete with an M.A. in digital journalism and design.  I also have a film documentary based on real women who chose to be strong and survive sexual violence that premieres in the beginning of 2018.

Skyla Luckey in 2011 when she worked as a news helicopter videographer for Bay News 9. Photo courtesy of Skyla Luckey.

I sought treatment at VA Bay Pines for PTS and eventually lost my fear of being around men and no longer felt the need to avoid them. I started to see them as human beings and not all as sexual predators. I still have PTS issues that come up every now and then. I knew all along that I had to do what I had to do in order to cause change at a station that was ridden with years of unethical behavior. If I had to go back and do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

When people say, “Thank you for your service to our country,” I thank them for thanking me. But who I really served were future generations of Coasties. That’s who I protected from a couple of sexual predators that would have kept on abusing their little bit of power. That’s two less sexual predators that the Coast Guard has because I never backed down or shut up. I risked my Coast Guard career for future Coasties. I cared about people’s sanity and safety that I didn’t even know because I wanted them to have a better experience than I. Because I didn’t spread my legs to make basic Coast Guard qualifications and emotionally crumble under the gas lighting and manipulative tactics under my fellow shipmates, I never advanced further in my Coast Guard career. Through it all, I was a selfless person who cared about the well-being of other shipmates. I didn’t just speak words; I took action. With the current socio-political climate geared towards an increasingly conservative government and limited civil liberties to the rights of all, but especially marginalized citizens such as women, it is imperative that we all take action as a nation if we wish for the miasma of sexual harassment and oppression of women that permeates our society to be lifted.

Watch Luckey in the trailer for “flesh wound,” a film for veterans made by veterans premiering in 2018: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fPVBokJjLU&feature=youtu.be

Watch the trailer for Luckey’s film documentary “Finding Life After Nearly Dying,” which premieres in 2018: https://vimeo.com/241609029

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1 comment

  1. Sasha 3 December, 2017 at 12:28 Reply

    I also recall getting to my first unit and feeling like I was stuck in a cage of, not just mediocrity, but active misogyny.

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