Yakima recruiter’s podcast tackles racism, sexual assault in the U.S. Army

Season 2 of 'Words We Live By: The Mantras That Motivate Us' coming in March

YAKIMA, Wash. — Last year, an onslaught of emergency COVID-19 restrictions threw U.S. Army recruiters across the country for a loop, leading them to ask: How do you recruit people if you can’t meet them in person?

Yakima-based U.S. Army recruiter Sgt. Candice Saxon answered that question, turning to a medium that might better reach the younger generation.

“I think I had been working from home for a week and I texted Sierra, ‘Hey, I want to start a podcast,’” Saxon said.

Sierra Starks, social media manager for the Seattle Army Recruiting Battalion, responded with a resounding and enthusiastic “Yes.”

“Words We Live By: The Mantras That Motivate Us”

“Together we came up with the idea of centering it around ‘Words We Live By,’ whatever those may be,” Starks said. “We had people tell us their mantras for Season 1 and Season 2, we’re focusing on army values.”

One episode of the second season — focused on personal courage — features former U.S. Army sergeant Kyle White, a Washington state hero, veteran, Medal of Honor recipient and dedicated mental health advocate.

KAPP-KVEW sat down with Saxon and Starks to get a preview of that episode and talk more about the ideas behind their podcast, “Words We Live By: The Mantras That Motivate Us.”

Tackling racism, sexual assault in the Army

When brainstorming the initial plans for the podcast, Saxon said much of the focus was on personal mantras — whatever sayings people use to keep going through times of adversity. However, plans changed along with current events.

“The first season, COVID had just started, and then there was George Floyd’s death and a lot of conversation and riots around racism and, ‘What are we gonna do about it?'” Saxon said.

Saxon said at that point, those initial plans were put aside and they began to think of ways to be a part of the national conversation.

“It no longer matched the climate of the nation and we transitioned into matching the climate,” Saxon said. “We wanted to talk about things that really mattered at the time.”

The podcast’s second episode featured Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, who talked about race and racism in the Army.

In another episode, the podcast tackled issues surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment in the Army. The conversation centers on the case of Specialist Vanessa Guillen, a Fort Hood soldier who disappeared in April 2020 and whose remains were found two months later.

“We need to lean in to what’s going on in the country and I don’t think the Army is exempt from those conversations,” Starks said.

RELATED: Army leaders fighting distrust from soldiers at Fort Hood

Federal prosecutors charged a fellow soldier in connection with her death, alleging he had killed Guillen at Fort Hood and disposed of her remains. Authorities said the soldier fatally shot himself with a pistol as the police approached him.

In the months after her disappearance and death, her family spoke out about Guillen’s experience with sexual harassment in the military. Activists called for investigation of Fort Hood and advocated for systemic changes in how sexual assault and harassment is reported and investigated in the Army.

Season 2 features Medal of Honor recipient

Saxon and Starks began recording interviews for Season 2 this week in Yakima. The seven-episode series will cover each of the Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.

“When we’re thinking about personal courage and really the embodiment of that, Medal of Honor recipients definitely stand out and Kyle White has an amazing story,” Starks said.

On Tuesday, Saxon interviewed former Sgt. Kyle White, who received the Medal of Honor in 2014 for his courageous actions during an ambush by enemy soldiers on Nov. 9, 2007 in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.

At that time, White was just 20 years old and only 21 months into his military service. During the ambush, White was knocked unconscious by an explosion from a grenade; when he came to, he saw fellow soldier Specialist Kain Schilling had been injured and was hiding behind a nearby tree while he attempted to treat his wounds.

“Kyle sprinted through enemy fire to Kain’s side and began applying a tourniquet — shielding Kain with his own body as gunfire shredded that tree,” former President Barack Obama said during the Medal of Honor ceremony.

White saw another soldier, Marine Sgt. Phillip Bocks, had fallen 30 feet behind him and was out in the open, unable to reach cover due to his injuries. Again and again, White darted through enemy fire and was finally able to pull Bocks to cover.

“Tragically, there on that cliff, Sergeant Bocks succumbed to his wounds,” Obama said. “But in his final moments, this American Marine surely found some solace in Kyle White — the American soldier who, until the very end, was there by his side.”

Throughout the night, White committed more acts of bravery, many of which are detailed in the president’s speech.

“You make us proud,” Obama said. “You motivate all of us to be the best we can be.”

After returning home, White eventually founded Eleven09, an organization that, “provides an extensive expertise in many areas of the veteran experience, from transition and employment to the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress and erasing the stigma associated with mental health in American society.”

“It’s not just personal courage in a physical sense, it’s also personal courage when it’s standing up and raising awareness when it comes to mental health,” Starks said.

The journey is far from over

Starks and Saxon said the journey through creating the podcast has been one of transparency, openness and vulnerability — one that relies on their rock-solid partnership.

“The girl power energy that Sergeant Saxon and I bring is definitely my favorite part,” Starks said.

Both hope their podcast and the important conversations they have about the Army will empower listeners from all walks of life.

“I think everyone should listen to the podcast because when it comes words we live by, those are infinite and we’re just bringing some of those examples to the table,” Starks said.

Season 2 is coming back in March and will be available on most podcasting platforms. Listen to Season 1 here on Spotify.