FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The warrior mentality on the battlefield is genderless, and the desire to fight for freedom and one's country are not distinguished by biological differences. Women have been serving in the United States Army from the beginning, and as the world highlights women's achievements during the month of March, one Fort Bragg unit has taken the lead in developing and supporting strong women leaders.
Seeing the need to establish a culture change within his organization, Col. Chad B. McRee, commander, 16th Military Police Brigade and Fort Bragg's director of emergency services, hopes to create a professional environment where newer servicewomen are able to learn from the experiences and share the knowledge of more seasoned female Soldiers.
"I'm a believer that anyone of us can be a mentor, anyone of us who possess the proper care, morals and understanding of our professional responsibilities can all be mentors," said McRee. "I do believe that senior women can provide a better amount of mentorship to the younger women who are much like them."
McRee created the Women in Uniform Mentorship Program, which pairs Soldiers in the rank of private through staff sergeant and lieutenants with mentors at the sergeant first class level and higher. There are mandatory monthly small group meetings (made up of 15-20 women, led by a two-woman mentoring team) and individual mentorship meetings as needed.
"I am trying to empower and educate the women in this brigade to know that they are equals," said McRee, "I want them to know that they have a voice and that they [may] have real concerns that need to be addressed."
Separate and complementary to the unit's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program, the Women in Uniform, or WIU, as an educational rather than an advocacy program, teaches newer Soldiers to be observant to the potential warning signs of sexual harassment and assault, and how to avoid being a victim of such violence.
"The main reporters of sexual assault and harassment are female [Soldiers,] and females tend to not take care of each other as they should," said Capt. Marissa F. Ballesteros, commander, 21st MP Company, 503rd MP Battalion, 16th MP Bde. "These two issues brought to light the need to create a program where females can get to know and trust one another, so that if these incidents were to occur, they'd be more likely to report the problem versus not to report it."
"Who better to inform a woman Soldier of the signs, the red flags [and] the manners of behavior that can help them avoid being potentially harassed or being assaulted," said McRee. "While I certainly can teach a woman that, I think coming from another woman it is probably more powerful."
The mentoring program also focuses on learning to professionally reach one's potential, and dealing with the work-related and personal issues that Soldiers encounter on a daily basis.
"Along with SHARP and [equal opportunity] training, there will be an overarching theme" each meeting, said Maj. Corrie A. Hanson, chief of operations, 16th MP Bde. "We'll talk about promotions, boards and career advancement, and use those as a jumping off point for other discussions."
In addition to career development, mentors will also discuss personal and military life issues that might affect the careers of younger Soldiers.
"We have a couple of Soldiers in the group who are pregnant, and three or four of us had recently had children, so we talked about what it's like to come back to work the first couple of days after you have a child," said Hanson. "We talked about daycare in North Carolina especially day cares that will accommodate the MP's 24-hour schedules and things like that."
Though leaders of any gender are expected to mentor junior Soldiers, the WIU was specifically designed to provide guidance to the organization's women Soldiers, who currently make up 19 percent of the brigade.
"Female [Soldiers] can come and talk to one another about any issue known to man and maybe frame it a bit differently, because we are in the minority," said Ballesteros. "This is opening a door for us to do that -- but it doesn't close the door on being a mentor to Soldiers of the opposite sex."
By providing examples from life experiences, senior women mentors can provide examples of problems solved and conflicts conquered, as well as issues perhaps not well understood by their male peers.
"Women can relate to women," said McRee. "I can look at women and say 'I completely understand this,' but I may not."
"It's not that I can't talk to my male supervisor, but I feel that his perspective won't always be the same," said Spc. Sabrina L. Lucien, a personnel clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 16th MP Bde. "If I tell him something about what is going on with me and my child, [e.g.] growing up, how it's hard for me to leave them and I'm missing this and that -- I feel his response will be 'tough it up -- this is the Army, it's what you signed up for.' But if I speak to my mentor, she'll say 'this is how I handled it during that time.'"
When assigning mentees to mentors, care was made to make sure that Soldiers from different units were intentionally mixed and made sure not to fall within current chains of command or responsibility.
"It's a unique program because it crosses chain of command boundaries," said McRee. "It allows experiences to be shared across the brigade, [building] a humongous communication network where people aren't afraid to share the bad or good."
The program is meant to be a preventative in nature, allowing junior Soldiers to confide in seniors who they trust, without fear of reproach, in order to stop and prevent unprofessional behavior before it becomes a major issue.
"As leaders, we must have the courage to try something new," said Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas S. Sivak, the brigade's senior enlisted adviser. "Our Women in Uniform Mentorship Program is an honest attempt to improve our organization."
As of the second week of March, there have been three meetings and those meetings have already brought around results.
"I've gotten to see another side of people, not just the Army 'sergeant first class/captain' persona, but I get to see these people as people," said Lucien. "I've also realized that I'm not the only one who goes through this every day -- kids, marriage problems and work. Sometimes you feel you are alone, but this program lets you know that you are not."
Though in its infancy and limited only to this one brigade, McRee sees this program growing to the Fort Bragg level and even Army-wide, bringing with it organizational change.
"As this mentorship program evolves, I think it will address issues which women face that are different from [those that] men face," said McRee. It "will become a very transparent organization…really [opening] up communication to a whole new level."
Formalized through official channels and led by female mentor-administrators, the program is built to adapt and change within the small group environment as needed in order to meet the needs of that specific group.
"Once the ins and outs get worked through I think that it can really make stronger women," said Lucien. "It can make people more independent, having the mentors serve as guides. Some of us are new to the Army, but the mentors are not. Life changes, but the Army doesn't really."
As an institution, the 'One of a Kind' 16th MP Bde. is diverse in its makeup and mission, rightly suiting it to make the program a success, said McRee.
It is an expansive program not limited solely to Fort Bragg, as two-thirds of the brigade is located at Fort Drum, N.Y. and Fort Stewart, Ga., he said.
"I want people to walk into this environment and the conditions are such that anyone can succeed, only limited by their own talents and goals -- that's it," said McRee. "Not limited because of their gender, because of their race or sexual orientation -- we're about taking care of everybody."
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