WASHINGTON – The Defense Department honored three women yesterday for their exceptional character, courage, and commitment to Army values.
Army Spc. Natasha Schuette, a sexual assault prevention advocate; Alyce Dixon, a World War II Army veteran; and Tracey Pinson, director of the Army’s Small Business Program, were recognized at the Pentagon on the final day of Women's History Month.
Each honoree received a Lifetime Achievement "Women of Character, Courage and Commitment" award, and a Women's History Month certificate of appreciation.
“Spc. Schuette demonstrated one of the Army's highest values -- personal courage," said Barbara Stansbury, the master of ceremonies at the Pentagon event and a staffer with the Army's Directorate of Equal Employment Opportunity.
By telling her own story of sexual assault, Schuette has urged victims -- both male and female -- not to be afraid to report crimes that occur in the ranks, Stansbury said.
Schuette was sexually assaulted by her drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C., in 2012. She came forward and learned of four other female trainees who had been assaulted by the same male drill sergeant.
After reporting her attack, Schuette at first suffered retaliation at the hands of other drill sergeants in her company, and her company commander initially failed to follow up on her complaint, Stansbury said.
The drill sergeant eventually was sentenced to four years in jail for sexual assault, and Schuette said she is one of the few soldiers to have a conviction against a perpetrator.
Schuette shared her story for a training video that was shown at a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, summit last year hosted by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno.
"Her actions opened the door to the problems that exist in handling reported cases of sexual assault and contributed to an increased effort by the Army to improve the response and prevention program," Stansbury said.
The Army is making an effort at changing the culture of tolerance of sexual abuse, but it's a slow process, Schuette said.
"I just want to say thank you for everything and to continue to encourage victims to come forward to change this culture that we have," she said.
Schuette said she was facing a discharge for 'lack of integrity' but found the strength to stay in the Army and continue to fight. She credits her strength to the support of her family and the other victims who came forward with her.
"A lot of times our victims don't say anything and it gets kind of swept underneath the rug, and they deal with it by themselves," she said.
"The Army is making a huge change now to where you are assigned a victim advocate,” said Schuette, adding that the advocates know the regulations and are able to explain victim’s rights.
Courage is the presence of mind and spirit that allows a person to undertake challenges without fear of pain or retribution -- even though pain and retribution may be coming, said Clarence Johnson, director of the DoD’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity.
"Courage is a powerful thing," he said, in presenting the award and certificate to Schuette.
Schuette now serves as an administrative assistant to the command sergeant major of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Schuette said she’s working on a nursing degree for after she leaves the Army. She said she wants to continue being an advocate and helping victims of sexual abuse.
"It's not the Army that has a huge problem -- it's something that happens in society also," Schuette said. "We take people from society and put them in the Army and they just don't know how to act, but the biggest thing is that I don't blame the Army.
"I just blame the people who did it,” she continued, “and the people who were part of it, and the people who accepted it, because the Army values don't accept that. These were people who weren’t taught their values a correct way.”
At age 106, Dixon has seen the nation and the world go through monumental changes. She said she was proud to be at the Pentagon receiving the award and is thrilled at the great things that African-American women and all women have achieved.
Dixon was born when Theodore Roosevelt was president, lived through the Great Depression, witnessed six major American wars, and saw 18 presidents elected, including the first African-American president, Stansbury said.
Dixon served the nation faithfully as a member of the Women's Army Corps during World War II and then for 35 years as a federal employee. She began that service more than 70 years ago, when she was one of the first African-American women to join the WAC, Stansbury said.
Dixon has traveled the world and is known for her jokes and quick wit, Stansbury told the forum. "Her philosophy is 'You've got to laugh a little bit,'" she said.
"Ms. Dixon is truly an amazing woman of extraordinary character, courage and commitment," Stansbury said.
"I want to say thank you very much for all those kind words," Dixon told the audience. "I'm still hanging on at 106 years, and I'm very happy to be here. I joined the Army in 1943, before a lot of you were born even, and things were not good at that time.”
During World War II, Dixon served in Europe as a member of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. The 6888th was the only unit of African-American women in the WAC to serve overseas in England and France during World War II. They were charged with eliminating the enormous backlog of floor-to-ceiling stacks of undelivered mail and packages addressed to U.S. service members, Stansbury said.
Mail delivery, she said, was hampered due to dangerous wartime actions throughout Europe, and that had a major impact on morale. Another difficulty was that many packages were addressed to names like 'Junior,' or 'Buster,' U.S. Army. However, with the soldiers' identifying number on the letter, the mail could be sent to the correct person.
"Realizing the importance of this task, the 6888th worked tirelessly each day and cleared a backlog of mail in half the time it was expected to take. These amazing women cleared over 90 billion pieces of mail," Stansbury said.
After the war, Dixon worked in the Pentagon in requisitions, where she said she purchased everything "from pencils to airplanes," and retired from the Pentagon in 1972 after 35 memorable years, Stansbury said.
Demonstrating her wit and good humor, Dixon had the audience laughing throughout her speech.
"When I first went in, they wanted to send me to the hospital to be a nurse. I said, 'No, no, no. I'm allergic to hospitals, can't go there,'" she joked.
"I had a wonderful time in the service. I enjoyed it very much," Dixon said.
"When I joined, they asked me, 'Why did I join?' In 1943, I said, 'They've taken all the men, I got to follow them," she said to laughter, adding: "If men can do it and help the country, we can too."
"We worked hard and did a lot of good things," she said.
Dixon said she is so proud to see such "beautiful things" happening with African-American women and all women who are doing so much in the Army.
"I'm so pleased about that; they've moved right on up to the top. Good for you," she said.
Pinson is the Army's highest-ranking female African-American senior executive service member. She is a principal member of the Army Secretariat and is the highest-ranking female civilian in the Army acquisition career field.
"For her extraordinary commitment and service to our nation, Ms. Pinson was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Presidential Rank Award in 2002 and again in 2009. This award is presented by the president of the United States to only a select few career senior executives for their strong leadership and professionalism," Stansbury said.
"Ms. Pinson said she began working for the Army because it had the best small-business program in DOD, and under her leadership, it still does today," Stansbury added.
Pinson is a role model for all and has demonstrated exemplary character, courage and commitment to service of the nation, Stansbury said.
"For over 10 years, her outstanding commitment to the Army's Small Business Program, including the Mentor-Protégé program and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Institutions program, allowed many small and disadvantaged women-owned businesses the opportunity to pursue contracts with the U.S. Army," her certificate reads.
"It really is pretty astounding what Tracey has been able to accomplish. Under her leadership, the Army has led the federal government in contract awards to small businesses for over 10 years," said Gerald O'Keefe, the administrative assistant to the Secretary of the Army.
"That's just an amazing achievement," he said, in presenting the award and certificate to her.
"It's really a pleasure to be here and to share this honor with two very, very courageous women of character," Pinson said.
She credited many people for her success.
"I share this with my source of strength and success, and those are my mentors, my family, my team members, for clearly they have made us successful. And then, of course, we cannot leave out our successors, our children, our building strong shoulders for the individuals that are coming along after us," Pinson said.
"Thank you so much for this award today," she added.