News: HHB, 32nd AAMDC kicks off 'Sisters-in-Arms' Program
Story by Staff Sgt. Brandon Little
EL PASO, Texas - Sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination are just some of the injustices that women in the military have faced for decades. Over the years, many women were able to persevere through these adversities to reach ranks and positions that paved the way for others to succeed; however, a great number of women were never afforded the opportunity to reach their full potential due to such toxic working environments.
The military has tried to combat this through providing various training and other resources; one recently introduced program is geared toward helping enhance the avenues of mentorship and communication from senior female officers and noncommissioned officers to junior female officers and soldiers.
Dozens of soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command came together to express their thoughts and expectations for the battery’s Sisters-in-Arms Program during a closed door forum, held Feb. 1.
The SIA Program was first implemented in September 2012 by 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to help provide a venue for Soldiers to train and advise one another as well as allow them to voice their concerns about certain issues.
“The intent of this program is really to get a grasp on the sexual harassment/ sexual assaults, but I think it’s even bigger than that,” said Master Sgt. Bianna Yeager, primary facilitator for HHB, 32nd AAMDC’s SIA Program. “For me, it’s about pulling females together and empowering young women to be just as successful as [any] of the senior female leaders in the 32nd AAMDC have been able to become in the Army.”
One of the provisions of this program involves pairing a junior soldier with a senior soldier as part of a “Big Sister” mentorship program. There is certainly no shortage of successful female leaders, officer and enlisted, in HHB for junior soldiers to look to for mentorship; however, this is not a luxury many of the seniors had earlier in their careers.
“Growing up in the Army, I was really, a lot of the times, the only female in my unit,” said Yeager, an air defender with more than 18 years of military service. “Honestly, who I had to observe and facilitate the way I did things were senior officers like [Maj. Gen. Heidi Brown]. I didn’t really have a senior female enlisted person that I could call a mentor.”
The battery’s first SIA meeting opened the eyes of many soldiers, like Pfc. Nicole Trost, who found an unexpected connection with several senior leaders.
“It was a little uncomfortable at first, but once everyone started talking, you realize, all rank aside, that we’re all just women in the military,” said Trost, an intelligence soldier who has been in the Army for 14 months. “Since we’re such a small unit, and we don’t get to see each other that much, it was good to get to know each other a little more.”
A variety of topics were discussed during this meeting, and many of the junior soldiers learned about the Army adage “there’s no such thing as a new problem.”
“There were some things they were talking about, from when they were my age or rank, and I could relate to a lot of the stuff they were saying,” said Trost, who hails from Genoa, Ill. “I definitely got a different insight to what some of the senior officers and NCOs have been through in their careers. They had a lot of great advice to offer.”
“I just think that being able to share those experiences with young women in the Army, that maybe they’ll realize they’re just not on some stalemated path. That they can get out there and be as technically and tactically proficient as any of their male counterparts,” said Yeager, a native of Elmhurst, Ill.
The end result of this program, and others like it, could really have an “Army Strong” outcome.
“Our attrition rate with women seems to be pretty high, and I think that is somewhat attributed to them not having senior examples of what they can become … I try to set an example every single day,” said Yeager, who is also a former first sergeant. “As long as we take this program where it needs to be, and we take it very seriously, I think it’s going to very much improve the resiliency of young women.”
Although the SIA program is in its early stages, many of the participants are enthusiastic about the groundbreaking precedents it could set in soldier communication.
“When I become a senior NCO, I look forward to passing information like this on to junior soldiers,” said Trost.\
“I hope that, in the distant future, we don’t have to have these small groups getting together,” said Yeager. “I hope that programs like this will no longer be necessary … because if we don’t open ourselves up to young soldiers - not just female, not just male – then we’re failing the younger generation.”