Female senior NCO: 'This is what I was meant to do'
May 1, 2013
FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. -- Looking around a tent filled with seasoned infantrymen preparing to brief their commander, one Soldier stands out.
She is the only female in the room.
As of 2012, women made up less than 16 percent of the total Army, and that percentage decreases as the ranks rise. Master Sgt. Erika Gordon, the lone woman in the tent, is proud not only to be a Soldier who has overcome adversity, but one of the relatively few females who has made it nearly to the pinnacle of the Army's enlisted ranks.
"I love being in the Army; this is what I was meant to do," said Gordon, who currently serves in the command sergeant major position for 1-363rd Training Support Battalion, 189th Infantry Brigade, Division West. "I love being a leader and a noncommissioned officer. My worst days in the Army are better than my best days as a young woman with a bleak future."
Everyone has reasons for joining the military. Gordon's are close to home.
"My uncles served in the Vietnam and the Korean Wars, where women played limited but very important roles, so it was a bit of a Family tradition," she explained. "More than that, though, I was in a place where I wasn't progressing or advancing in life, so I joined the Army. I wanted to do something with my life that would make my mom and dad proud, as well as provide for my children.
"I really wanted to be a Soldier."
Gordon became a military police officer and served as one of the first female casket bearers in the Old Guard. That experience, along with two years in a combat engineer brigade and her present assignment in an infantry brigade, has left Gordon unfazed when it comes to serving in roles dominated by men.
"I have never looked at the military as male versus female; as individuals, we have to push ourselves to succeed, no matter your gender," Gordon said. "Deep down, I know I always have to try harder to get to the top, but it's because I'm always pushing myself to be the best I can be, not because I am female."
Gordon has mentors who have helped shape her as a Soldier. She is thankful for and proud of her father, who served two tours in Vietnam with 1st Infantry Division, as well as her husband, a retired 26-year Army veteran. Throughout Gordon's 20-year career, both men have been her support system and sounding board, along with retired Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hamilton.
"He saw something in me as a young staff sergeant and taught me how to harness my aggressive, 'don't approach me' attitude," Gordon said. "He taught me that, as a leader, every now and then you have to turn around and see if anyone is willingly following you; if they are, that's how you know you are making a difference."
As a part of the 189th Infantry Brigade Gordon experiences firsthand the unique relationship between the active-duty Army and the reserve component.
"Everybody has a story. You may have heard a thousand stories, but you have to see each person as an individual, you have to listen to them," said Gordon. "Mission first, always, but I have learned that different leadership styles work with different people in different components. This active component/reserve component assignment has given me a different perspective and a different leadership skill set."
Fort Hunter Liggett is the largest installation in the Army Reserve, with more than 160,000 acres of mountains, valleys, rivers, plains and forests. It provides ideal maneuver areas and state of the art training facilities.
The 91st Training Division, headquartered at Fort Hunter Liggett, trains and assesses Army Reserve units, and supports training for joint, combined and active Army forces. Thousands of Soldiers and dozens of units from around the country are participating in the April Combat Support Training Exercise, which provides realistic training for military maneuvers and tactics such as base security, convoy operations and battle reaction drills during simulated enemy attacks. The exercise provides realistic training to units to successfully meet the challenges of an extended and integrated battlefield.