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Commentary: Human trafficking is a real problem; Guardsmen can help be a solution

Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of involuntary labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion. The Department of Defense began the Combating Trafficking In Persons Program in 2014 in order to mitigate the effects of human trafficking not just in the U.S., but also abroad. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of involuntary labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion. The Department of Defense began the Combating Trafficking In Persons Program in 2014 in order to mitigate the effects of human trafficking not just in the U.S., but also abroad. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman Shawna L. Keyes)

HORSHA AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. -- Next month marks the recognition of Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Jan. 11, and is dedicated to raising awareness of worldwide human trafficking and sexual slavery.

Although it may seem like a draconian topic from the dark ages - nothing could be further than the truth.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported 4,168 cases in the U.S. just this year.

According to the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "Victims pay to be illegally transported into the United States only to find themselves in the thrall of traffickers. They are forced into prostitution, involuntary labor and other forms of servitude to repay debts - often incurred during entry into the United States."

Knowingly or unknowingly, any military member involved with trafficked persons can be reprimanded by punitive discharge, confinement and forfeiture of all pay and allowances in accordance with Article 134, Uniformed Code of Military Justice, as conduct that is prejudicial to good order and discipline. If a service member hires a prostitute or attends a "gentleman's club" where trafficked persons are, they may be directly or indirectly supporting trafficking.

So, what can be done mitigate this heinous act?

As military members, we are trained to remain vigilant. This situational awareness can be used to help identify possible cases. Some signs victims of human trafficking may display include, but are not limited to:

-Appearing malnourished

-Showing signs of physical injuries and abuse

-Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures/law enforcement

-Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction

-Appearing destitute/lacking personal possessions

-Living at their place of employment

-Poor physical or dental health

-Tattoos/branding on the neck and/or lower back

- Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment - barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows

- Not allowing people to go into public alone, or speak for themselves

After awareness comes action. If signs of human trafficking are noticed, members here may call the 111th Attack Wing's Security Forces Squadron at, 215-323-8600. Also, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center can be contacted confidentially at, 888-373-7888.

While all citizens can be human rights advocates, military members carry the distinctive responsibility of protecting populaces, whether in the U.S. or abroad. In and out of military status, wing members can play a vital role in combating a crime that is often hidden in plain sight.

For more information on this topic and to learn what you can do to help, go to the NHTRC website at, https://www.traffickingresourcecenter.org/ or http://www.humantraffickingawareness.com/.

(Editor's Note: 111th Attack Wing Public Affairs Office contributed to this story)