Desperate to realize her childhood dream of being an astronaut, Lynn K. Hall was an enthusiastic young cadet. For Hall, the military offered an escape from her chaotic home—her erratic mother, absent biological father, and a man she called “dad” who sexually abused her. Resolute and committed to the Air Force Academy, Hall survived the ordeals of a first-year cadet: intense hazing from upperclassmen, grueling physical training, and demanding coursework. But she’s dismissed from the Academy when, after being raped by an upperclassman and contracting herpes, she is diagnosed with meningitis and left with chronic and debilitating pain.
Betrayed by the Academy and overcome with shame, Hall candidly recounts her loss of self, the dissociation from her body and the forfeiture of her individuality as a result of the military’s demands and her perpetrator’s abuse. Forced to leave the military and return to the civilian world, Hall turns to extreme sports to cope with and overcome PTSD and chronic pain. She, in turn, reclaims herself on the mountain trails of the Colorado Rockies.
An intimate account of grappling with shame and a misogynistic culture that condones rape and blames victims, Caged Eyes is also a transformative story of how it’s possible to help yourself and others in the aftermath of a profound injustice.
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From the Prologue
Mitchell Hall felt colossal to me, inspiring yet humbling, like much of the Air Force Academy. It was not just a cafeteria or a chow hall, but rather a dining facility fit for officer candidates of the world’s most dominant military. Like all of the buildings at the Academy, Mitchell Hall’s outer aluminum frame resembled an airplane’s metallic shell. Inside, two-story panoramic windows opened to the snow-covered pine forests blanketing the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Air Force–blue tablecloths adorned four hundred rectangular tables arranged in a perfect grid. We flooded through the doors of Mitchell Hall at the end of the noon meal formation, when awed tourists watched us cadets march to lunch. From the staff tower, a man’s voice commanded, “Wing, take seats,” and all four thousand of us sat in unison. The Air Force Academy bragged that we were the cream of the crop: America’s most driven, disciplined, bright, and honorable young adults, destined for charmed careers, first as Air Force commanders, fighter pilots, or intelligence officers, and later as aerospace engineers, politicians, or generals. A few of us might even reach our most coveted profession—astronaut. To prepare us for these future lives, the Academy packed our schedule with academics, athletics, and military training, which demanded no less than eighteen hours of effort each day of our four-year tenure. We were allowed twenty minutes for the noon meal.
It was a Monday in late February 2003, and as an underclassman, I sat at the table’s foot. Waitstaff rushed down the aisles, delivering hot dishes. Today’s meal: Chicken à la King over pasta. I passed the platter to the head of the table so that the seniors could serve themselves first. I sat perfectly still on the front six inches of my chair, back straight, my handsfl at in my lap. I focused my eyes on the black eagle at the top of my white, round plate; otherwise, upperclassmen would demand that I “cage my eyes.” I had not yet earned the privilege of allowing my eyes to stray.
There was an excess of energy in the dining hall. Cadets talked loudly, but this buzz wasn’t excitement; it was anger. “Liars,” I heard repeatedly. “Bitches.” Over the weekend, seven women had appeared on ABC’s 20/20 telling their stories of having been raped, ostracized, and punished here at the Air Force Academy. Watching from their computers in their dorm rooms, the cadets in my hallway had erupted in immediate fury, slamming doors and yelling: “Those fucking liars!” “How dare they attack our Academy?” I had watched the seven women on a grainy feed on my laptop in horror. I was angry, too, although I knew each word they spoke was true. One of the women had been raped by the same man who had raped me. My anger at them came from fear. I had trusted those women on TV. Together we had formed a rape survivors’ support group and had shared in painstaking detail what had happened to us. We connected our stories and their similarities and had realized—together—the pervasiveness of our traumas. Nearly simultaneously a handful of the women in our ever-expanding underground network of survivors were discharged from the Air Force. A few left by choice. Some were kicked out after they reported their rape, for offenses such as having sex in the dorms, even though they insisted it wasn’t consensual. Then their collective outrage drove them to seek out the media.
But what did they think would happen to us women at the Academy when they went public? While I admired their courage, I felt betrayed—furious that they could be so inconsiderate to those of us left behind.
Too nauseated to eat, I held my body taut while the upperclassmen at the head of my table debated “what the fuck was wrong” with these women. All nine cadets I sat with happened to be men, supposedly my Air Force family. “Collaborate to graduate,” cadets often chanted. Graduating from the Academy required tremendous teamwork. Academy administrators designed our training—the academic projects, athletics, inspections, field programs—to foster collaboration and solidarity. As an underclassman, even something as simple as walking to the bathroom was illegal unless a “wingman” came with me. Without a wingman, I’d have to pee in my dorm room sink. Cadet rules were so strictly enforced that the distinction between violating them and breaking actual Academy laws was blurred.
One of the seniors directed his attention to my end of the table and asked, “What do you think of those fucking whores who’re tarnishing our Academy?” Fucking whores. I had felt that way about myself. That I was a whore. That’s exactly how my perpetrators had made me feel. Perpetrators, plural. I had been raped by an upperclassman, but I had also been molested back home in the months before becoming a cadet. What kind of weak, helpless girl could be victimized by multiple men? I was smart—my high school’s valedictorian. And I was tough—strong enough to finish the Academy’s rigorous basic training. And yet I had been a victim, too, repeatedly. It wasn’t until I had confessed to my survivors group that I had been assaulted more than once, and another woman had answered, “Me, too,” that I questioned the self-recrimination that for months had kept me silent. Maybe I wasn’t a fucking whore. Maybe there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with me that had brought on the sexual assaults. After the senior’s question, I felt the eyes of the nine men around me monitoring my every twitch. The cadet across the table thrust his closed fist into the air between us, a standard way for a freshman to raise a hand. “Sir, may I make a statement?” The senior nodded to him. The freshman dropped his hand and looked directly at me, a stern, unblinking stare that confirmed my roommate had leaked my secret and that he knew of my own rape allegation. He said, “Sir, I think a woman who gets herself raped isn’t strong
Table of ContentsAuthor’s Note
PART I: Space Odyssey
PART II: Broken
PART III: Dark Ages
PART IV: Warrior Spirit
PART V: Higher
Select Recommendations for Resources on Sexual Assault in the Military
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time. It is not an easy read. Let me clarify: the writing is excellent and I read the entire book in a single weekend. But the subject matter is a challenging one, the sexual abuse that Hall suffered first as a teenager from trusted adult friends and then a rape that happened while she was a cadet in the Air Force Academy. This is a book about trusting yourself, being strong, fighting for your rights, and moving past trauma, even given the severe challenges Hall had (the physical repercussions of the rape continue even more than a decade after it occurred). I found myself tearing up at the end, as ultimately Hall fights to heal herself. This book angered me, saddened me, and ultimately uplifted me. Every feminist--no, every woman--should read this book. I hate to repeat myself but it's the best word for it: Powerful.
This memoir is an important, well-written, and - above all - honest book. It's a tough read emotionally, and I'm so glad I read it! For those of us who feel sorry for ourselves over the most insignificant slight or who complain over the most minor physical ailments, we are given a glimpse into what actual hardship and actual pain feel like. And in the process we are shown what real courage, resilience, and strength are as well. And talk about strength! - Lynn Hall is an amazing person and a wonderful writer, and her memoir made me feel anger, sadness, and most of all hope - both for change and for her continued success.
I'm not normally one to read memoirs but I'm glad I had the chance to read this powerful book. I was really shaken by this memoir. I found myself crying in many parts of it, my heart breaking for the situations that Lynn found herself in during her time at the Air Force Academy. Having resilience in the title is apt, because Lynn K. Hall has it in spades. I'm not sure I could have had the same strength that she did to overcome everything she went through. This is an important book and even more so in the times we find ourselves in where the conversation about women's rights, their bodies and the respect that women deserve are in the forefront of the news. It is stories like Lynn's that truly prove that we need a new dialogue. We need to stop the victim-shaming and teach our boys that rape is never, never ok. In my opinion, this memoir is a must read.