FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 6, 2014) -- Better Empowered Soldiers Today seeks to empower participants through opportunities to connect Soldiers and make them feel more in control of their lives, which program developers hope will help reduce sexual assault and harassment on the installation.

The program focuses on female-Soldier-specific issues and helps connect new Soldiers to experienced mentors who know the ropes of the Army, said 1st Sgt. Gloria Cain, NCO Academy deputy commandant.

"We make up less than 15 percent of the fighting force, so we just want to make sure our needs are still addressed in a comfortable arena," she said.

Cain said many young Soldiers don't have an older, female, military friend to ask important questions, such as what to bring to the field or to a deployment, and that the mentor program is the most important aspect of BEST.

"We want the males to attend as well, so they can learn and answer some of these questions, and be more aware of all of their Soldiers' needs," she said. "They need to learn about females because that will only help them be better leaders. The sexes are different and our differences are sometimes not addressed. We are just trying to provide a way to connect female Soldiers so questions can be answered and issues addressed."

The program began in November, and is looking to increase participation and has developed mentors for younger Soldiers.

"Some people may be a little worried to come to the meetings because they don't want to be singled out. They don't want to take part in something that is all about females when they are trying so hard to just be a part of the group," said Cain. "But this program is to show females how to be a part of the group and still keep their dignity -- to be a part of the team like a Soldier should.

"We don't want younger Soldiers to make the same mistakes we did," she continued. "As a young Soldier I wanted to be one of the guys and be accepted by them, so I made some mistakes, and I see young women doing the same thing. You don't have to be one of the guys to be an amazing Soldier. You will be respected if you have the knowledge and put forth the effort to make the team successful."

The next BEST meeting is Feb. 13 at the Commons, Bldg. 8950, at 4:30 p.m. The quarterly workshop "conflicting perceptions" will focus on how Soldiers dress out of uniform and how they may be perceived at different places and functions.

The workshop includes skits, a "fashion show" and a video presentation. The meeting is open to all military personnel and is free.

"We are having a not-so-typical fashion show to illustrate appropriate attire for female Soldiers at different events. We wanted to do something fun and different while educating everyone on perceptions, and what message you are sending when out of the uniform and how you represent yourself at the gym, an interview, a local restaurant or even a military ball," said the deputy commandant.

People can learn more about the program at the meeting and important issues affecting females. It also offers the chance to network with others to get help with unique problems.

"I feel like if people are aware of perceptions and job responsibilities they don't have to do certain things to be accepted, and that in the end will reduce sexual assaults and sexual harassment," said Cain. "Learning all of these things will boost morale and build a stronger team if everyone is on board."

There is no sign up necessary, and the program will make everyone who participates a better leader, no matter what rank, or sex, they are, said Cain.

"In turn, we also hope to teach females about males, too. It's important that we know how to react to each other," she said. "If females feel more empowered and males understand us a little better, and vice versa, we can alleviate those situations where Soldiers get themselves into trouble."