Army Stands For Opportunity For Women
November 16, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Glass ceilings are hard to find in the Army.
Instead of mirroring the issues of female employees in industry who have to crash through imaginary glass ceilings to get to upper management positions, women in the Army are discovering plenty of opportunities for leadership and advancement. All they have to do is meet the same requirements of their male counterparts -- be willing to work hard and stay committed to their military career.
But the going is not easy. It requires plenty of sacrifices.
So was the message from two of Redstone Arsenal's leading female Soldiers -- Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Angel Clark-Davis and the Missile Defense Agency's Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown. Both were guest speakers at the "Women in the Military" program presented at the Nov. 8 meeting of the Redstone Community Women's Club at the Officers and Civilians Club.
Twenty-eight years ago, the Army was the answer for a single mom who didn't want to rely on food stamps and welfare to raise her daughter. Clark-Davis grabbed onto that opportunity and turned it into a lifelong career that still offers plenty of promise for the future.
"I'm going to take care of my child and be responsible for my child," Clark-Davis recalled telling herself all those years ago when she became pregnant while attending Alabama A&M University.
When her daughter was 6 months old, Clark-Davis left her with family in Tuscumbia and went to boot camp. The two were reunited later at Fort Hood, Texas, where Clark-Davis relied on a very loving, generous and reliable babysitter along with an aunt to care for her daughter when she was wearing the uniform.
"That was the start of my career," she said. "I went in with a five-year obligation. Twenty-nine years in February later and I'm still here. I'm very fortunate to have a job that I really, really love."
While her passion for the Army has served her well, it has also been a source of conflict as she has had to work to balance her military career with her parental obligations.
It is easy, she said, to "get caught up in the military and the demand of it" and make too many sacrifices that are detrimental to your family. As a single mom, that was her worry throughout her daughter's childhood. But now, with her daughter an adult, Clark-Davis knows she did the best she could as a parent.
"My daughter tells me now 'I'm so glad you were able to go in the military and you were able to take care of me.' She is so proud of me, even though I had to make all those sacrifices that took me away from her. She's still proud of me," Clark-Davis said.
Ever since she became a non-commissioned officer, Clark-Davis has been a woman of firsts. This Bronze Star recipient has deployed to Iraq in support of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, to Egypt in support of Bright Star, to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and to Romania and Bulgaria in support of Joint Task Force East. At Redstone Arsenal, she has yet another series of female firsts -- as the command sergeant major of the 59th Ordnance Brigade, then the command sergeant major for the Garrison and, most recently, chosen to serve as the command sergeant major for the Expeditionary Contracting Command. She will assume that position at a later date.
"I've been the first female in every job … I'm the first. Hopefully, if I do well others will follow," she said. "I try to make sure I am a role model for female Soldiers as well as male Soldiers. I want to show them 'You can do this.' I want to encourage and mentor female Soldiers."
Clark-Davis wants other Soldiers to know that it is possible to find ways to be committed to both the Army and their family, a balancing act that both female and male Soldiers have to work to achieve based on their own personal situations.
"As a woman, I don't think we have to choose one or the other," she said. "Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or one that works, you still need strong support from family and friends, others to share the responsibility with" and an understanding with your child that is achieved through a lot of talking and sharing.
"Is it going to be easy? No, it's not. But it's never easy. Being a mom and having a career is tough. Staying at home to raise your kids is tough, too. But you have a choice," Clark-Davis said.
As a woman of firsts, Clark-Davis knows the journey can be lonely, with no female mentors along the way in a predominantly male career field. She has been in many meetings during her 28 years where she has been the only female. Hopefully, that will change as the Army becomes more diverse, she said.
"I want to be a female mentor. What can I do to motivate other females to work hard so they, too, can be in that room? All we want is the opportunity to work hard to get there, too. I want to mentor other females so they, too, can go forth and do great things," Clark-Davis said.
"We don't want anyone to give us anything. But we want the hope that we can move to the next level. Today, there are no glass ceilings in the Army … One day there will be the first female command sergeant major. One day."
For Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, the Army's glass ceiling was shattered with the acceptance of women at the Military Academy. A 1981 West Point graduate, she was a member of the second graduating class to include women. Brown went on to in several assignments at Fort Bliss, Texas, as an air defender. She became the first female to command a combat brigade when she was assigned to command of the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. She is the first female general in the Army's air defense branch.
"I see some similarities between our two paths," she said, referring to Clark-Davis' comments.
She said her reception at West Point made her tough enough to handle the difficulties she faced as a female in the air defense artillery branch.
"Those early years at the Academy probably helped," she said. "There wasn't a line embracing us at that time. The early years were pretty tough and you had to be pretty tough to deal with everything."
Today, she has 30 years in air defense artillery. During her career she has seen two kinds of women in the Army -- those that work extremely hard and those who are staying under the promotion radar.
"There's no middle ground for women. Either you rise to the top or you clammer at the bottom," she said. "I have always tried to do the best I could without pushing anyone down.
"In all I've done, I've worked to prove to myself what I am and what I'm all about. There were fun times. There were hard times. There were times that helped us define our roles. Women are not put in a box. There is no glass ceiling unless you believe there is. I just wanted the opportunity. If I am qualified for a job, just give me the opportunity."
As one of the few women in air defense artillery, Brown said "failure is not an option. If I fail, then no one behind me can come up. I want to get to the point where the novelty (of women leaders in air defense) has worn off and it's business as usual."
Brown said there is a 10-year gap between where she has gone with her career and the next women who have the potential to be promoted to the general ranks. In 2007, she was advised to retire. Instead she went on to become a brigadier general and is hoping soon for a promotion to major general.
"Don't let people tell you 'no.' You set your own boundaries … I think I am blessed, I truly do … Each one of our stories is different. We all have our stories. We've all made our choices and our choices are OK," she said.