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The courage to intervene

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jake Eckhardt
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
I was 14 when I was first introduced to what abuse was in more ways than one. It was Christmas Eve in Irving, Ill., and my entire family was gathered at my mother's house--everyone except my uncle.

I saw my family every day, but it was always different around this time of year. They brought a positive aura to our household, a certain coziness that a family should have. We all ate our big holiday meal. My cousins and I finished before the adults hoping they would get done soon too. We quickly noticed that there was still time to waste before we got to our favorite part of the night. We went to play while they finished.

It finally came time to open gifts. As the night went on our living room was filled with shreds of gift-wrap and the mixture of conversation and laughter. The night came to a close around 11 p.m. I said my goodbyes, and quickly gathered my new items into the playroom to rip them from their containers. I eventually settled on playing my new video game and lost myself in the plot.

I heard the front door close and three people entered my house from a room away; this wasn't enough to break my concentration. I heard loud, obnoxious voices over the tiny clicking of my controller's joysticks. I heard a familiar, yet slightly different, almost hostile voice among the crowd. The comforting aura that filled my house moments ago was missing. It was replaced with a sense of danger.

My connection to my virtual existence was now broken. I put down the controller and stepped away to investigate. As I scanned the dining room, I noticed three people: a couple standing a few feet from the doorway to the living room and my uncle standing sternly and making angry gestures.

I went unnoticed as I stepped into the kitchen. As I crept across the dining room, I looked into the living room to see my mother, sister, twin newborn cousins and aunt. I could tell they held some fear behind their expressions as they watched this drunken man yell louder and louder. I could only stare in disbelief as he slowly closed the gap between himself the small crowd.

My family tried to talk him out of his rage, but it was apparent that they weren't getting through to him. He went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife, and headed toward my sister. I quickly moved into the dining room as if I was going to stop him.

He was insulting her from inches away while he lightly dragged the knife across his wrist. My sister began to cry and then he made himself bleed. My family and I were paralyzed. We eventually came to and got him away from her.

As he grew louder, the newborns began to cry. His reaction was to grab the carrier the children were sitting in and swing them around. Before he could complete half of a rotation, my sister and aunt grabbed the children and returned them to safety. While my uncle argued with them about their actions, my aunt motioned for me to retrieve the keys out of the vehicle he arrived in. I returned inside to see the situation had gotten worse.

Everyone had gathered into the dining room now. My uncle moved on to his next victim, my mother. His hands gripped around her throat while he threw her around the room. We, the bystanders, were again in shock.

So many thoughts ran through my head at this moment. 'I need to do something. What can I do though? I'm only 14. I'll just get in the way if I try anything. I'll just become another victim.' The longer I watched the abuse the more I felt I should do something. Adrenaline eventually got the better of me, and I blacked out. When I came to, I was on my uncle's back attempting to choke him.

He eventually let go of my mother, so I, in turn, released him. He then went outside to get cigarettes from his car. If we were going to act it would have to be now. I locked both doors, and my mother, who was now crying from the attack, was calling 911. We heard him come back up the wooden steps of our front porch. He realized the outside, all-glass door was locked, so he viciously broke it and then tried to get through the second door.

We felt confident the second door would hold him at bay, but we were mistaken. In an attempt to avoid another attack, we told him we called the police, and they were on their way. That saved us. The police showed up shortly after we called, and my uncle was arrested.

Being so young, I felt like I couldn't have done anything to stop my uncle, but that is far from the truth. Allowing the situation to escalate was a problem that could have been avoided by reacting sooner. We, as Air Force personnel, are obligated to protect, whether it be assets, information or people. Intervening doesn't require specialized training or years of discipline, all it takes is the courage to step up.