FORT MEADE, Maryland -- An Army Reserve senior NCO equal opportunity advisor was recognized as the 2014 Merlin G. Pope Jr. Outstanding Equal Opportunity Noncommissioned Officer of the Year this month.

Master Sgt. Julia A. Baumgartner, a Brooklyn, Michigan, native, received the award for her advocacy in promoting cultural diversity while assigned to the 300th Sustainment Brigade in Grand Prairie, Texas.

"Each one of us, regardless of our differences, has to be treated with dignity and respect throughout the Army," said Baumgartner, who started her career as a military police officer. "It is our responsibility as Soldiers, leaders and as Americans to stop looking at what segregates us, but to see the values each one of us bring individually to the Army. Diversity is truly our biggest strength."

U.S. Army Reserve Command EO Sgt. Maj. Silva Porter-Deal said Baumgartner exemplifies the qualities of a true EO leader because she raises cultural diversity and awareness and promotes equality within the Army Reserve.

A military police officer by trade, Baumgartner was assigned as her brigade's EO advisor in 2011, when she started educating Soldiers on cultural diversity and discrimination. She completed the Equal Opportunity Leadership Course that year and graduated from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute in 2012.

The Merlin G. Pope Jr. Equal Opportunity Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award recognizes Soldiers for their contribution in encouraging and promoting fairness, equality, dignity and respect among Soldiers, Family members and civilian employees at installations, Army Reserve units and surrounding military communities.

This award honors Pope, a Vietnam veteran and equal opportunity practitioner who advocated for equal rights and diversity in the corporate world. It is also the first Army award to recognize the achievement of a Soldier who performs the duty of an EO advisor.

"The role of the EOA is to coordinate and implement programs to raise awareness on discrimination and eliminate barriers for equal opportunity and bring diversification," Porter-Deal said.

Baumgartner was selected among the best of the EOA community because she fosters and sustains the EO program in a positive manner in her command, Porter-Deal said.

Baumgartner said EO is essential to the Army Reserve. During her acceptance speech, she stressed the importance of bridging cultural diversity within the ranks and encouraged viewing diversity as strength, not as a weakness.

"Having diversity in an organization brings different ways to think about things: different concepts [and] different cultures. For the Army, it makes us a lot more mission capable," she said. "That is the greatest strength for the Army, its diversification."

Baumgartner said she hopes leaders and NCOs can continue to promote diversity and acknowledge committed senior NCOs who are trying to make a difference within their units and elsewhere. She said she hoped the 200th Military Police Command Soldiers in attendance would take something away from the ceremony.

"To be chosen out of the Army Reserve, I feel humbled and honored to receive this award. However, it is not about me. It is for the Army Reserve Soldiers, especially in the military police, " she said. "Soldiers are now going to ask now who is Merlin Pope. At the end of the day, they will search his name on Google and see his achievements and have a better understanding of the EO program."

The EO program is important to MPs and the Army Reserve, she said.

"The impact of having an EO program and advisor is crucial and essential to the overall mission," Baumgartner said.