JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Arrowhead” is poised to initiate its Sisters in Arms program in May. The program, which originated with 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, is geared toward educating, training, mentoring and empowering female soldiers to become future leaders.
"[The brigade] heard about this and decided that it was going to embrace the same program as a way to look at how we deal with the problems, questions and issues that are starting to arise with the repeal of the combat exclusion policy for women," said Maj. Nicole Dean, the brigade aviation officer and lead coordinator for the Sisters in Arms program for 3-2 SBCT, 7th Infantry Division.
The most recent ground combat exclusion policy of the U.S. Army dates back to 1994 when the Pentagon stated: “Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.” The policy was rescinded Jan. 24, 2013, following a unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
While the Sisters in Arms program is designed to assist female soldiers overcoming the hurdles they might face with the repeal of the combat exclusion policy, it is also a chance for these women to have a good dialogue about issues that only women understand, Dean explained.
"That is where Sisters in Arms can begin helping women get through these difficulties," she said. "The brigade wants to focus its program on the daily activities of women, which is where our program is really starting to take off."
Dean, a native of Orchard Park, N.Y., said that females in this brigade have great role models to answer their questions, like Cpl. Heidi Olson who just last year was recognized at the White House by President Barrack Obama for her valorous actions that helped save a comrade's life while in Afghanistan in 2012.
"I can see the benefit of the program for a female coming into a predominately male atmosphere," said Olson, a Springfield, Ore., native and medic with 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3-2 SBCT. It may help some female soldiers learn how to deal with issues that may arise in such an environment, she said.
Partnering experienced senior women, such as Olson and Dean, with the junior female soldiers gives those soldiers someone to turn to — to help answer questions, address problems, or give them guidance beyond traditional military mentorship.
In addition, 3-2 SBCT is looking at the Sisters in Arms program as a opportunity to not only provide mentorship, but also as a chance to open a dialogue between men and women about what it means to be a soldier when your sex is different, Dean said.
"There's a value to having a women's only panel session or women's only clinic, but if we can't, as women, reach out to men and talk about the issues that we have as professionals … we haven't achieved the good side of what we're supposed to do," she explained.
Dean further explained that incorporating men into the program from time to time would help them feel more comfortable discussing women's issues in the military.
"It also gives them the encouragement to talk to their female soldiers in a professional manner about things that are only experienced by women so that way they're not dancing around the subject," she said. "It gives them a forum also to address questions and concerns and makes them feel comfortable with having women in the formation."
While that is so, Dean stated that 3-2 SBCT's Sisters in Arms program is first and foremost a place for female soldiers to be in the company of other women where they will know that they are not the only one going through a problem or issue.
"Knowing that you're not alone gives you a sense of emotional strength that you can't put a value on," Dean said.
The program, slated to begin in May, will be a first for the brigade and help set the standard for the future as new females begin to integrate into combat arms jobs previously closed off to them.
"I see this as an opportunity potentially to pass on knowledge that I’ve had, experiences that I’ve had on to the next generation of military," Olson concluded.