Story and photos by David Crozier, Command Communications
The United States Army Sergeants Major Academy officially recognized Women’s Equality Day Aug. 26 with a ceremony produced by members of Sergeants Major Course Class 66 in the academy’s Cooper Lecture Center. Class 66 student, Master Sgt. Teela Washington was the mistress of ceremonies and welcomed those in attendance and announced this year’s theme.
“Today’s theme – Celebrating a Women’s Right to Vote – Breaking the Mold – pays homage to those women who were willing to stand up against inequality at a time when women were not allowed to have a voice,” Washington said. “They were the first to break the mold.”
The event began with the reading of the Presidential Proclamation recognizing Women’s Equality Day followed by a skit entitled “Who Do You See?” The skit begged the question, “Who do you see when you look at a woman – a wife, sister, mother, grandmother, niece or aunt; do you see the faces of the pioneers who came before them? Or do they see them as society sees them – as a wife, mother, or caregiver. Do they fit the traditional image of a teacher, secretary, nurse, maid, or waitress? Do you see their potential to be an athlete, surgeon, CEO, firefighter, military police, or a judge? The question continued, “Do you see us as we see ourselves? Do you see us as we really are? We are all these things and more – Soldiers, leaders.”
The guest speaker for the event was Col. Carey M. Wagen, deputy commander of the Brigade Modernization Command, Fort Bliss, Texas. Wagen is noted as being the first active duty female officer to command a combat aviation brigade and the second female commander of any aviation brigade in the Army.
Wagen began her remarks with the story of her youth saying she never felt that couldn’t do anything anyone else could do and didn’t realize she wasn’t allowed to do certain things until she joined the Army.
“I think I first realized that when I was in flight school and I found out that I was only allowed to go on hueys, blackhawks and chinooks and I wasn’t allowed to fly attack or scout helicopters because at that time they had a direct combat role which excluded women from roles that put you in direct combat,” Wagen said. “It seems rather naive today when you think about the last 13 years and where we have put women in combat. Even though I didn’t dwell on what I couldn’t do; I focused on what I could do.”
Wagen said her parents always taught her to be the best at whatever she decided to do with her life. So she decided to be the best at what the Army offered her. She added that she personally doesn’t think she broke any molds, only worked hard to progress through the ranks like her male peers. The only difference being was that she was a woman.
“Looking at the statistics women don’t make up 50 percent of the Army, only about 15-18 percent. So I suppose I unintentionally broke the mold because there is not a lot of us in the Army,” she said. “I know I was the first woman to command a combat aviation brigade. That is not what I was focused on, and it wasn’t because I did anything different than any of my peers. It was a long tough road with many gates I achieved not because I am a woman, but because I strived to be the best Soldier and best officer that I could be, and I worked hard at it.”
Jokingly she added she did not have to work hard at being a women; she had no vote in that and said you are what you are when you are born and you make the most of what you have. The only vote she did have was how she saw herself – a Soldier first, then an officer and finally a leader which happens to be a woman.
“That is how I want others to see me. When I walk into a room I don’t want somebody to say who is that female. In fact I don’t like the term female and male because this is not science class. We are men and women,” she said. “I acknowledge the fact that I am a woman, and there are a lot more men in this room than me, but I see Soldiers, leaders, future command sergeants major, and I like people to see me as a colonel, an officer, a leader, and a Soldier first. Not the fact that I am a woman.”
Wagen said the culture is changing and that she is pleased with the direction the Army and the military is going and said the fears and concerns about standards being changed or not upheld is all on “our shoulders as leaders.”
“As long as we as the Army, as a military, as a senior leaders, ensure that the standards required for the job are the standards that we must meet, then there should be no questions whether or not that ranger tabs is earned,” she said. “As a leader I recognize my responsibility to value, encourage and prepare both men and women for the challenges of being a Soldier in today’s volatile world. Whether you were born a man or woman, we are all capable Soldiers. We all have contributions to the fight.”
For more photos of the event visit the USASMA flickr site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/133821783@N02/albums.