Sisters in Arms provides peer-to-peer forums
Fort Bliss, TX — Throughout history, women have had an ever-increasing role in our military, but that role has never been quickly accepted or supported.
In 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp was established and women were discouraged from joining lest they be seen as lesbians and prostitutes, then in 1994 female Soldiers were first allowed in and around combat situations but thought to be too soft. Now the announcement has been made that female Soldiers will be fully integrated into combat positions.
This adjustment will involve challen-ges that must be overcome and changes in opinion that must be made, but the leadership of the 1st Armored Division already has a program in place that is in a good position to facilitate changes and identify challenges as we move toward a fully integrated military.
“Sisters in Arms,” is a program that was established to address the concerns of female Soldiers and provide peer-to-peer forums in which women of all ranks could discuss their common experiences in a comfortable environment.
“We identified a need to allow Soldiers to gather and discuss what was going on in the unit and in their personal lives,” said Col. Mark H. Landes, the commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, “Bulldogs”. “This provides a forum in which both senior and junior, enlisted and officers can discuss those issues.”
The councils, which will be held monthly, are intended to address the life changes of females in the military and establish a mentorship program that will aid female Soldiers in their career progression, said Sgt. 1st Class Rena Key, the equal opportunity advisor for the Bulldog Brigade. The councils will establish an atmosphere where they feel comfortable discussing the good parts and challenges of military life for women.
"It’s so critical that we get it right from the beginning,” said Landes. “We have the right leaders and we have the right Soldiers, now we have a forum where they feel that their voices are being heard. If they know the leadership is hearing their voice, they will feel more comfortable during the integration.”
The opinions of Soldiers are guardedly optimistic regarding the success of the program, but hopes remain high and the possibility of a new avenue of approach could prove to be a great relief to female Soldiers, which now make up only 14 percent of the active Army.
“I think it will bond us as a unit,” said Spc. Shaelah Anderson, a human resources specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 125th Brigade Support Battalion, 3/1 AD. “We just have to get comfortable. The first few meetings will probably be a little quiet.”
This is an important step in building an organization that treats all Soldiers equally and values their input, said Landes.
Seeing the potential success of this program, both Landes and Key have expressed interest in expanding this program to include male Soldiers in the future.
“The Sisters in Arms program is a great idea and one that, if successful, we can breed into other programs,” said Landes. “It’s a good and timely idea as the Army continues to move forward. Anytime you can bring like-minded individuals together and give them a chance to communicate and share, I think, it’s beneficial.”
History has shown that, despite our resistance to change, we have maintained an ability to evolve and respect each other as Soldiers with gender roles fading gradually over time and the general respect between men and women increasing.
“We are truly a band of brothers and sisters in arms,” said Key. “Bands don’t break, they hold strong. They lift each other. They support each other. They stay together.”