By Staff Sgt. Kyle J. RichardsonMarch 16, 2016
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii--U.S. Army Pacific's Sisters in Arms mentorship program opened its doors to guest speaker Lt. Gen. Karen Dyson, who addressed the group at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, March 10.
Dyson, the military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army (for financial management and comptroller) is also the first female financial officer to reach the three-star general level. Furthermore, she is one of five females serving as a lieutenant general in the Army.
She spoke to the group about her personal challenges in the military and career advancement. She attributes her success to her support at home and strong mentors throughout her career.
Dyson recounted how the male chemical officers under her command wanted to step in and take charge during what she considered a pivotal turning point in her career.
During Desert Storm, Dyson was a captain -- a company commander -- responsible for the troops and overall welfare and safety.
A muffled call came across the radio. During the confusion, she understood what was going on. She could hear the chemical alarms going off in the background. Within minutes, everyone was in full chemical protective gear waiting for the next move.
Other officers wanted to take charge. Her boss, her brigade commander, put her in charge and expected her to do that job. He stepped in to remind others that she was in command and was more than capable of doing the job her appointed her to. She said that she knew what she needed to do and wouldn't let anyone step over her to do the job she was empowered to do.
"My self-image as an officer, as a leader and as I've come through the ranks, is unwavering," said Dyson. "Whatever my position is, if I'm the commander, then I'm going to be the commander. I've never really thought of myself as being different than the commander next to me. I've always thought that it shouldn't matter if I'm a man or a woman, whoever is in charge needs to step up and be in charge."
Dyson shared that story because she believed no one should have to take on anything alone and that the Army is a team sport.
"Growing up when I grew up, and not being super athletic, I really didn't know what that meant until I had some experiences in the Army to see the Army team," said Dyson. "Now, for those who understand that the Army is a team, you have to understand how to be a contributing member of that team."
While Dyson was in the Pacific region leading budget analysis efforts, she reached out to committee members and volunteered to speak to the men and women belonging to the USARPAC's Sisters in Arms program.
Today's Army is seeing multiple policy changes and opening more doors to female service members. Although women in the Army have more opportunities today, they still face unique challenges.
Mentorship programs like USARPAC's Sisters in Arms address some of those problems and provide a safe environment for male and female Soldiers to come together as a cohesive team to discuss women-specific issues.
"I think the Sisters in Arms program is very rich," said Dyson. "It's an opportunity for women and men to come together and really explore issues of interest with regards on how women support and fit into the team."
The USARPAC's Sisters in Arms program is several months shy of its third year. Within its short time of existence, the program provided mentorship opportunities, topics that encouraged growth, development, and brought in senior leaders to talk about their paths to success.
Dyson, openly shared stories about her military career and her desires to have the same leadership opportunities as male Soldiers she served with. Her personal stories moved one Soldier to continue her own career and strive for more.
"This is my third Sisters in Arms meeting and I'm grateful that we have programs like this," said Spc. Christina Campbell, an Arlington, Va. native and budget analyst with the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, USARPAC. "I never saw myself as someone in the military but when I joined, I had this proud feeling that I was a part of something bigger than myself."
Campbell stated that she was having doubts about staying in the Army but after the meeting, she said she felt more confident that the Army was right for her.
"I was just amazed when she [Dyson] spoke today," said Campbell. "I thought to myself 'maybe there was a reason I was supposed to be here today. Maybe I'm supposed to stay in and become a mentor that inspires future leaders.'"
During the Sisters in Arms meeting, the audience members were able to ask Dyson a few questions. At the end of the meeting she left them all with something to think about.
"No matter what you're doing, it could have been the best thing that you have ever done but it's not going to last forever," said Dyson. "It could have been the most challenging thing that you have ever done, but it's not going to last forever. You have to take away from each experience what you can learn and then, you have to keep looking forward. The Army is changing and the Army will always go through changes. Each generation brings on new challenges. So each person has to keep themselves focused on the goals that they have created but at the same time, remember there's a team out there that has your back."