VILSECK, Germany -- When Sgt. Brett Ortiz, 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, first slipped on a pair of red, two-inch high heels, he was afraid to stand up. And while Ortiz was more worried about balancing his six-foot athletic frame on the thin heels, his feelings were poignant to the cause.
Ortiz was one of more than 200 Soldiers who participated in "Walk-a-Mile," an international men's march against domestic violence and sexual assault, Sept. 22.
"There is so much violence in the Army," said Ortiz. "It doesn't need to be happening on the homefront, too."
The second annual Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program sponsored event, known locally as "Dudes in Heels," saw a rise in community support with more than 400 in attendance. And while watching burly Soldiers attempting to walk a mile in high heels was entertaining for spectators, it was also a bold statement against domestic violence.
"There is a phrase that says you can't relate until you walk a mile in their shoes," said Carolyn Bryant, a Family Advocacy Program specialist for ACS. "These shoes symbolize what many victims of domestic violence feel."
Bryant stressed that both domestic violence and sexual assault are prevalent issues within the Grafenwoehr community, adding that community members who fall victim to such abuse often feel embarrassment and shame, and worry about what others might think of them. But most of all, she said, they feel pain, a feeling that many of the high-heel sporting participants can now relate to.
"I don't know how the ladies do it," said Sgt. Anton Decker, 44th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, as he clumsily walked along the path, grimacing with each step. "It hurts. It hurts so bad."
Sgt. Andre Mejia, 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, felt similar discomfort despite practicing before the event.
"Doesn't matter," he said. "It's still pretty painful."
Participants had their own strategies for completing the mile. Sgt. Maj. Robin Bolmar got a helping hand from his wife, Everlyne, and 4-year-old son Zach, literally leaning on them for support; Ortiz strutted along with catwalk eloquence; Decker playfully leaned on his buddies; and Pvt. William Richards, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, ran the last half mile "just to get it over with."
But much like victims of domestic violence, participants soon found the community was there to support them.
Bringing up the rear, and coincidently while Aretha Franklin's "Respect" blared over the loud speaker, Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rivera, Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, sauntered over the finish line to a cheering crowd of supporters, kicked off his red high heels and threw his hands in the air in celebration.
"It's over!" he proclaimed.
The lessons learned, however, will hopefully carry on.