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Take a stand, lend a hand

We recognize National Bullying Prevention Month in October. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Jan Kays/Released)

Vandenberg Air Force Base recognizes National Bullying Prevention Month during the month of October. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Jan Kays/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "Get up and fight me."

I could barely stand, even if I wanted to. My jaw felt permanently rearranged from the surgery performed by my attacker's fists. I felt bruises the size of golf balls begin to form under my eyes. I had cuts and bruises from ear to ear - from head to toe. I had just been beaten to an almost lifeless pulp as spectators egged my attacker on. Adding insult to injury, the crowd doused me with disparaging remarks about me and my family.

"You just got beat up, loser."

"Your mom raised a coward."

"Call your dad, we'll beat him up too."

As I laid face down on the gravel, nearly motionless, I just wanted this moment to end. I wanted to walk, limp or even crawl home and never be seen again. I honestly wanted to die.

I was 13 years old at the time, right on the cusp of graduating grade school. My adversary, we'll call him "Joe", was a physically imposing 15-year old sophomore at the high school I planned to attend upon graduation. We hung around the same crowd and played sports together most of the time.

Joe was your typical bully - someone who enjoyed inflicting pain on others, reveled in their misery, and never had to worry about a white knight trying to stand up to him. I tried to be that knight, unaware of the consequences.

During a basketball game, one of my teammates blew by Joe en route to an easy basket, to which he retaliated by elbowing my teammate in the back of the head, sending him right to the ground. When my teammate finally recovered, he jumped up furiously looking for the culprit. When he realized it was Joe, the sad realization on his face set in. He wasn't going to do anything about it, and neither would anyone else.

I had finally reached my breaking point. I got in Joe's face and a war of words began. The confrontation ended with me on the ground, Joe unscathed, and a group of spectators - that included the teammate I stuck up for - cheering him on.

After the fight the crowd dispersed, leaving me in a puddle of my own blood and embarrassment.

I wasn't always the bullied, however.

One of my best friends growing up, Eddie, was always a unique character. We first met in pre-kindergarten and have known each other for two decades now. He always did what he wanted and never cared about how he was judged or perceived, a trait I always admired. Eighth grade was almost over for me and Eddie, with graduation solely in our sights.

One day in school, the entire class was ridiculing and verbally torturing Eddie.

"You're never going to have a girlfriend."

"You're such a nerd, you have no friends."

Except he did, he had me. With a chance to stand up for Eddie, I had a decision to make. It seemed like a no-brainer at first. Eddie was one of the few friends I had back then. He was always there when I needed something or someone to talk to. I had his back and he had mine, no questions asked. So my decision was made, right?

But people seemed to forget about the embarrassing beat down I suffered not too long ago and had moved on to a new target. If I defended Eddie, I'd be right back at square one. Graduation was so close, and I wanted to get to the finish line without any more hassling. Why would I want to place myself even remotely close to that kind of humiliation again?

In one of my most regrettable moments, I joined the crowd in verbally harassing my own friend.

Eddie wasn't mad at anyone in the classroom, except me. He expected that kind of behavior from everyone else, but not me. The look of betrayal in his eyes in that moment was more painful than the drubbing I had previously received from Joe. Fortunately, he forgave me and we are still good friends who remain in touch to this day.

Bullying is defined as the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. It is often a term associated with childhood experiences, but it stretches far beyond that. Even today, as Airmen, we need to be conscious of bullying in our military.

Do you use your rank to bully others without realizing it? Do you say things about others that you wouldn't want to hear about yourself? Have you witnessed bullying and continued about your day without interjecting? The verbal jabs you bombard your co-workers with that you view as a joke may not be viewed that way by the recipients.

We recognize National Bullying Prevention Month in October, but it's time to take measures to prevent bullying not only this month, but every day.

Bullying takes on many forms - unfair treatment because of a person's gender, skin color, sexual orientation, weight, and disability - to name a few. Others include those who are perceived as "weak", someone who won't stand up for them self or tell the proper authorities when they've been bullied.

As someone who has been both a victim and a culprit of bullying, it's time we take a stand against these egregious acts. Bullying can take place anywhere - on the streets, in the classrooms, in the office, and on the internet. It is our job as human beings to extinguish bullying as soon as we happen upon it.

Bullying prevention begins and ends with you. Don't think twice, do what's right.