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NEWS | March 6, 2024

My attacker will not take anything away from me.

By MaryTherese Griffin Army Recovery Care Program

This is a story that starts with a horrific incident that turns into triumph. It may be hard for some to read. Master Sgt. Jasmin McKenzie, a Food Service Specialist, is at a place in her recovery where she wants to share her experience in hopes of helping others. McKenzie was sexually assaulted in July of 2022 at a previous assignment. She transferred to and is still at the Fort Belvoir Soldier Recovery Unit. We met her this week at the 2024 Army Trials at Fort Liberty North Carolina where she is competing as part of her recovery to be on Team Army in hopes of going to the Department of Defense Warrior Games in Orlando this June. Her journey here unknowingly started for her the day she was attacked.

“I went into the female locker room to take a shower like I had done a hundred times before. It was clear on the door it said female locker room it wasn’t a secured door. I showered, was doing all my lotion and someone attacked me from behind.”

McKenzie described being smashed into the wall, seeing stars, and being dazed and confused.

“I was never able to identify who the person was.” Unfortunately, there were no cameras outside that area.

“I just remember trying to run, my towel falling off so I was naked, being grabbed by my chest, being thrown on the floor, struggling to get up, more fondling grouping, and then there was this loud crash. I have no idea what it was but I think it saved me. I just laid there. Whoever he was ran, so I just laid there until I could see again. I didn’t pass out, but I couldn’t see. I did sustain a TBI and concussion. After laying there for so long I got up and called my company commander, my battle buddy, and I asked her to come to the locker room.”

The commander came and McKenzie asked her to call her husband. “She didn’t tell him what happened just that he needed to get her quick. When he came, I was so nervous to tell him. Not that he would be angry with me just at what had happened, and he was, but he took care of me so well.”

Her husband had just retired from the Army and was able to get to her quickly. “I’m so blessed to have my husband. We are a blended family with four kids aged 17-23. I have highs I have lows but I am better than I was before. My husband has been my rock, he’s been phenomenal through this. Yes, this happened to me but it happened to the both of us.”

McKenzie continued describing her feelings and what she thought may have stopped the assault. “I remember feeling very terrified. I thought this can't be happening to me. I do think they were doing some sort of ammo drop near the building and it just terrified him and it terrified me. Thank God for the loud noise. I knew I was crying, and I threw up afterward. I just didn’t understand. In the Army, we go through SHARP Training (Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention) and they release statistics. Even when I took over as the 1st Sgt in that company, we had a brief with our SARC (Sexual Assault Response Coordinator) and they told us the typical age range, (under the age of 30) and I’m 38 so I thought ok I have to make sure my young ones are taken care of, never thinking it would happen to me.”

Her commander is a mandatory reporter who had to call the Battalion Commander to let him know what happened briefly and he notified the SARC. “She wanted me to go get medical treatment so we went to the clinic on base. We needed to transfer to the hospital as the clinic didn’t have the staff to do the necessary procedures. Everyone was so kind and caring it was just great medical staff all around.”

She said sitting in the waiting room her fear built and she became very untrusting- “I’ve never been like that in my life. As I think back to the people who took care of me, they were very nice and caring. Then the gentleman came in to take pictures of my body and that was a terrible experience. It was like getting violated all over again but I know it was necessary. I asked my husband to stay in the room with me and he did. He was emotional witnessing this.”

“I had to go through the CID (Criminal Investigation Division) interview but my SARC was there and someone from legal was there. I grew very close to my SARC. The CID interview was terrible because they needed details but again, I know it was necessary, and sure I wondered if they would believe me. It was founded because I was very open and forthright. I did start seeking behavioral help right away, I knew I needed help and needed it right away. Getting help is something I will need for the rest of my life.”

The doctor put her on quarters so she didn’t have to go back to work and McKenzie then thought about having to do that and wondered how she would. She never had to go back to work.

“I had a great command who understood that I needed time to get my mind right, to fix what had been broken. There was never a time when they told me I had to come in now. I kept them in the loop about what I was going through. They were all so wonderful, they called all the time. Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Battalion Sgt Major, Brigade Command Team, called and texted all the time and told me to do what I needed to do.”

“Right after it happened I wasn't able to do anything. Being in the house alone, and going to the grocery store, was hard. I knew I had to get back out into society to be ok with society again.”

She started at the SRU where she was assigned and eventually transferred to the Fort Belvoir SRU to remove herself from the atmosphere that was infiltrating her psyche every day. “Life at the Fort Belvoir SRU has been amazing from my squad leader up to the brigade. From the moment I got on the ground, I felt supported by everyone.”

From the moment she decided she needed the SRU, she knew would return to duty. “I thought this was not going to stop me. But it did. It stopped me for a long time. Mental health is so important and getting back to the point where I felt I would be ok took a lot of work.”

She says something changed along the way. “I was like I gotta get back in the fight. I want to show someone they are not alone. Even if I help one person and show them it's ok to get help.”

Part of that help was in a class offered through the Fort Belvoir SRU. “I sat down at The Succeeding through Adversity program at Fort Belvoir that Team Army coach Ross Alewine led. It got me motivated in a way I hadn’t experienced. His passion for talking about the Warrior Games got me interested in trying out.” She’s back in a routine of going to the gym and going to adaptive reconditioning events to continue her recovery. Now she is at Fort Liberty competing in track, field, swimming, and rowing for the chance to be on Team Army.

McKenzie’s progress has been nothing short of a miracle. “I just got the all-clear to Return to duty and I want to end my career when I want. I’ve earned everything in my career and my attacker will not take anything away from me.”

She says she wants to help and be an advocate in the process. “If anyone needs help I would tell them I’ve got their back, I am willing to help anyone. I want them to know what happened to them is not ok and there is help out there.”

It takes a lot of work to get to the new normal, but a lot of work paid off and she says she is there.

“No one ever imagines being in the SRU, or being hurt but to make Team Army, I would show everyone and this creep who did this to me that I am strong- I may have been caught in a moment of weakness but I am not allowing you to control my life at all.”

If you, or someone you know, is feeling unsafe or unsure as a result of a sexual experience with an intimate partner or spouse, or is seeking help for a sexual assault, find your installation’s FAP office to speak with a victim advocate, or contact an advocate through the DOD Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247.