Enlightening others leads to fulfilling life for director
March 27, 2009
- Women's History Month
FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- Her past may have been olive drab green, and her present aqua-marine, but her life has always been colorful.
From her time joining the Woman's Army Corps (WAC) to watching it become fully integrated into the Army, serving in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, to remaining active through volunteerism after her Army career, Barbara Schwartz, director of the U.S. Army Garrison's Directorate of Human Resources (DHR), has a lot of stories to share.
Some of the events in her life almost didn't happen, as Schwartz had roots planted in her childhood hometown.
"I was teaching an English honors class, coached basketball, volleyball and softball in my high school, Hamden High (Conn.)," Schwartz said. "I just wanted to do something more, be something larger than self."
She found that in the U.S. Army, enlisting in 1975 in an organization much different than today's Army. Unlike today, the Army was segregated by sex, she said. Women served in the WAC, an auxiliary branch to the Army created during World War II.
She served there for a year, rising to the rank of sergeant, before joining the WAC officer corps upon completing a 14-week women's officer orientation course at Fort McClellan, Ala. She was assigned to a postal unit in the Adjutant Branch.
Schwartz would serve in the Adjutant Branch the rest of her career, unlike her time in the WAC, which came to an end in 1978 when it was fully integrated into the Army.
Though she said the change made her lament that a part of history was dying, she said she realized it was necessary.
"The only way we'd be treated equally would be to be integrated fully and have equal access to jobs," Schwartz said.
Upon disbanding, women were able to serve alongside men in the same unit, opening many new opportunities, Schwartz said.
One such opportunity was the chance to go to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in support of the initial Iraqi War, which Schwartz did, serving as chief of the Morale, Welfare and Education division.
"They called me the tooth fairy because I was the bringer of gifts," she said, explaining she controlled the donations, supplying TV, VCRs and other avenues of entertainment for the troops. "By being proactive out there with the Soldiers, I could see the differences I could make."
She continued to make those differences throughout the rest of her Army Reserve career, completing her service in 2007 at Fort McPherson with command of the Army Safety Augmentation Detachment of U.S. Army Forces Command. She retired with the rank of colonel.
As a reservist, she also had the opportunity to give to the Civilian population, both through her Civilian job as director of Human Resources and as a volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium.
"I've always been into oceanography," said Schwartz, who holds a degree in recreation and leisure education with a basis in outdoor recreation. "Volunteering is a great opportunity to give back and educate people."
Her desire to give back also extends to her work, making her a boss one wants to work for, said Crystal Cummings, an information technical specialist with DHR.
"Anytime you have a leader who supports you, it lets the employee know they are important to organization," she said. "I love my job and working with DHR and Mrs. Schwartz."
Much of that respect comes from Schwartz's willingness to allow her employees to improve themselves through numerous education and training benefits. Cummings said Schwartz mentored her and helped her with her education. cummings has since earned her bachelor's degree in computer science.
Schwartz said her motivation for doing such was the belief that it is important to create opportunities for women and men to reach full potential.
"You can't do anything without the support of peers and co-workers; it is the whole concept of teamwork," she said. "You take care of people."
Schwartz practices what she preaches by holding mentoring session, work force development training and development programs for women.
Schwartz also works to educate others on women's history in the Army by talking about her own experiences in the WAC. She maintains the woman's history display in Rich Hall, Bldg. 184 on Fort McPherson. The display talks about the WAC and includes one of Schwartz's uniforms from Operation Desert Storm.
The display also features information on Lt. Col. Jessie Rice, the deputy director of WAC from 1944 until 1945, for whom the building is dedicated.
Schwartz has also served inadvertently as a model for members of her own family, who, before her, had little ties to the military. Her niece, Capt. Jenna Schwartz, is a West Point graduate and a resident doctor at Walter Reed. Her nephew, 2nd Lt. Daniel Schwartz, is in the Armor officer basic course.
"I'm the tie that binds us to the military," she said.
While content with her tie to leave the military life with her younger family members, Schwartz said she has no desire to stop her involvement in making the lives of those around her better, a philosophy that has been part of her lifetime character, a life philosophy that she sums up in five words.
"I like to give back."