News: Gunstone soldiers forge camaraderie with female mentorship program
Story by Sgt. Janelle Dean
FORT BLISS, Texas – “Some of the things you’re going to talk about today are not unique to female soldiers,” admitted Col. David Hamilton, commander of the 212th Fires Brigade as he addressed a full classroom Jan. 23. “Your challenge today is to get to the unique topics that affect female soldiers. If you do that, you’ll be able to address topics that will help you deal with current challenges, provide you with insights for future challenges, and make you more fit.”
As Hamilton spoke, nearly 60 female soldiers, representing various ranks, ethnicities and backgrounds of the Gunstone brigade realized the mission of the unit’s female mentorship program: enhance their own readiness by exchanging valued experience, advice and perspective on common ground.
“There are lots of different support networks that you can connect to in the Army,” Hamilton added. “Maybe someone will say something you can connect to and you can talk to that person afterwards.”
Following remarks from the brigade’s senior-most noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Jesus De Gracia, and face-to-face introductions from equal opportunity advisers and sexual harassment/assault response and prevention coordinators, the male soldiers left and the dialogue began.
Five panel members, four representatives of the brigade and guest Lt. Col. Cynthia Blevins, support operations officer for the 15th Sustainment Brigade, facilitated the open forum discussion to cover topics such as career development, relationship challenges, pregnancy, appearance and grooming standards and issues facing females during deployments.
“I think the most positive impact is that the younger soldiers know that someone is listening to them and they’re not being ignored,” explained panel member Sgt. 1st Class Felisha Dodson of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 212th Fires Brigade.
Members of the panel and participants shared stories and experiences, both candid and occasionally humorous, expressing things they wish they had known coming up through the ranks as young officers and soldiers.
Amid the laughter and discussion, some of the junior troops present said they found inspiration to be tomorrow’s leaders.
“These type of things actually motivate me to start doing different things,” said Spc. Tayn Pedraza, an automated logistical specialist from Bravo Company, 72nd Brigade Support Battalion. “As a future (noncommissioned officer), I’ll have more experience to start talking to my soldiers and make my soldiers have more confidence to start talking about what’s going on.”
The Gunstone brigade began the program in January of last year, and has placed a renewed focus on encouraging mentorship trends among its female soldiers in 2013.
Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commanding general, has begun a directive to establish more programs like the 212th Fires Brigade’s throughout Fort Bliss.
“It would be my hope that it would help females build stronger bonds with each other, which is important,” said 1st Lt. Rachael Rhine, executive officer of HHB Battery, 212th Fires Brigade. “I would also hope that it’s not taken to the point of we’re doing this because we’re women and we’re special. That’s not the intent.”
“I think the biggest takeaway from today is that our leadership cares,” said Staff Sgt. Shaniqua Stokley, a paralegal from HHB, 212th Fires Brigade. “They care about the female experience, they care about the issues that are unique to us, they care enough to put together a forum to show us that there are people within our organization we can talk to about issues we have.”