The Defense Department recognized a group of service members and civilians for their outstanding work toward sexual assault prevention and victim support in an annual award ceremony held at the Pentagon this month. Staff Sgt. Erika Feliciano from Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston was one of the recipients of the 2023 Liz Blanc Exceptional SAPR VA of the Year Award.
Three separate awards were presented to individuals from each military service, the National Guard and Coast Guard for their superior performance in an extremely challenging line of work.
"Today we are recognizing Department of Defense and Homeland Security personnel who are on the front lines addressing incidents of harmful behaviors, in particular sexual assault," said Elizabeth B. Foster, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency for the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
"You all are doing hard, emotional, draining work, often with limited resources, and yet you're finding innovative ways, time and time again, to get our service members the care they need and build healthy climates and culture," Foster said of the awardees. "Please know how grateful we are that you have chosen this work."
This year's recipients of the Liz Blanc Exceptional Sexual Assault Response Coordinator of the Year Award, the inaugural Liz Blanc Exceptional Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocate of the Year Award and the Promoting Excellence in Prevention Award represented commands from across the U.S. and overseas, reflecting the services' broad commitment to fostering a culture of sexual assault prevention — a top priority of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
"The Secretary of Defense, in the midst of everything else on his plate, has made this a priority since Day One, has made the work you are doing a priority since Day One," Foster said. "He regularly meets with his senior leadership to assess progress and determine where gaps persist. And he does this because addressing sexual assault is essential to our mission, to our readiness and most importantly to our people."
"You all are a critical part of leading this change, and I just can't thank you enough for being here today and for everything you do," she continued.
Dr. Nathan Galbreath, the acting director for DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, also underscored wide ranging impacts the awardees have had on the critical task of preventing and responding to sexual assault.
"Our Sexual Assault Response Coordinators are the backbone of our force that assist victims through the reporting and healing process," Galbreath said. "On the frontlines working with victims every day are our SAPR Victim Advocates that ensure that folks can get to services and get the support that they need."
He added that the department also relies heavily on the frontline experts tasked with testing strategies to reduce the occurrence of sexual assault.
"These folks that you're going to be seeing here today are truly experimenting with what we can do in the military to be able to reduce this crime," Galbreath said.
In addition to recognizing the work of this year's awardees, the ceremony also provided an opportunity to honor the legacy of Elizabeth "Liz" Blanc, the namesake of the annual awards.
Blanc served as a professional in the SAPR field for 15 years, including several years as a program manager for the Safe Helpline, the Defense Department's 24/7 anonymous hotline for those affected by sexual assault, before her death in 2020 after a long battle with cancer.
Galbreath praised Blanc for her skill and compassion as he unveiled for the first time a plaque that will memorialize the names of those receiving the Liz Blanc award.
He described her as a "terrific example" of the impact SAPR professionals can have through their service.
"Her legacy lives on with her family, the many survivors she supported and the professionals in the field who strive to continuously uphold the same high standards of commitment, service and professionalism she exemplified," the plaque reads.
Recipients of the 2023 Liz Blanc Exceptional SARC of the Year Award include:
- Army: Sgt. 1st Class Philena Perdue, Fort Novosel, Alabama
- Marine Corps: Maj. Sharon Rollins, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland
- Navy: Katie Stratchko, Naval Support Activity, Washington, D.C.
- Air Force: Capt. Brittaney Garner, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida
- Space Force: Christine Hayes, Space Force Base Delta 3, Los Angeles, California
- National Guard: Katherine Morsch, Minnesota National Guard, St. Paul, Minnesota
Recipients of the 2023 Liz Blanc Exceptional SAPR VA of the Year Award include:
- Army: Staff Sgt. Erika Feliciano, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, Texas
- Marine Corps: 2nd Lt. Jason Hanna, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
- Navy: LaTresa Henderson, Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida
- Air Force: Lahella Jones, Sheppard Air Force Base, Florida
- National Guard: Erin Sayler, Montana National Guard, Fort Harrison, Montana
- Coast Guard: Christina Morabito, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut
Recipients of the 2023 Promoting Excellence in Prevention Award include:
- Army: Elizabeth Campbell, Jessica Green, Elsa Jansen, Christine Paul, Sgt. 1st Class Sara Diehl and Staff Sgt. Marcus Palmeri, Vicenza Military Community, Italy;
- Marine Corps: Carissa Tourtelot, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California
- Navy: Tina Vaughn-Wardle, Lauren Portal, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida
- Air Force: Scottie Hampton, DeAndrea Haynes, Pamela Adams, Dr. Lindsey Henderson, Nicole Nixon and 1st Lt. Zackary Rausch, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia
- Space Force: Emily Dreiling, Jennifer Vasquez, Pauline Chui and Carly Martinez, Space Launch Delta 30, Vandenberg, California
- National Guard: Sgt. 1st Class Kortney Hornberger, Pennsylvania National Guard, Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania