By Gary SheftickMarch 30, 2016
FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, March 29, 2016) -- Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon is breaking ground as the first woman to serve as senior enlisted advisor for an Army service component command.
Since she assumed duties 10 months ago as command sergeant major of U.S. Army Europe, Lyon said she has been well received not only by her Soldiers, but by partner militaries as well.
"Oftentimes I think that sometimes they're trying to decide exactly how to talk or work with me," Lyon said about other sergeants major and senior allied soldiers. "But then we meet and it's all pretty easy after that."
Mutual respect for capabilities is the key, she said, adding that no special accommodations are ever needed.
"We're all Soldiers at the end of the day," she said.
Last week she visited with Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy, and their Italian counterparts. Then she went to Baumholder, Germany, to observe troops competing for the Expert Field Medical Badge.
"We have quite a few things going on," Lyon said. "It's keeping me busy -- keeping me grounded."
Lyon said she feels "fortunate and blessed" to be the USAREUR command sergeant major. And she has been honored throughout her career -- mostly spent in military intelligence -- to be the first woman in a number of positions.
"I have had a very non-traditional career path," she said. "I have been as often tactical as I have been strategic, as well as joint or unilateral."
She served as command sergeant major for Multi-National Battlegroup East and the land component command in Kosovo from 2013 to 2014.
A few years before that, she was command sergeant major for the Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. She deployed with the Brigade Special Troops Battalion to Iraq from 2009 to 2010. The unit helped close Camp Falcon and then moved to Camp Victory.
Many times when Lyon has been paired with a commander, she's learned she is the first female CSM that commander has had to work with. "For them, it presented some challenges," she said.
PAVING WAY FOR OTHERS
As the first female command sergeant major for a service component command across the Army, Lyon said she's "shattering the glass ceiling." What it provides is opportunities, she said, and not just for women -- for men who are not combat arms as well.
"Just so you know, I'm paving the way for other females, but also for anyone who's non-combat arms," Lyon said. "I like to emphasize that."
Lyon spoke at a Women's History Month event, March 22, and told the audience that when she was a young Soldier coming into the Army, she had asked to go to Ranger School. "And I was told flat out 'no you cannot, because women are not allowed to go.'"
Since the course was opened to women last year, three female Soldiers have graduated from Ranger School. More are planning to attend this year.
Women are also training to be cannoneers and combat engineers. And later this year they will be training to operate tanks and serve as infantry Soldiers.
Last week, Lyon visited the 2nd Cavalry Regiment Field Artillery. The Soldiers there were conducting an exercise and preparing to fire 155mm howitzers. As they were loading a round, Lyon asked about its weight. They told her it weighed 98 pounds and let her hold it.
"There are some females who can do it; there are some females who couldn't," she said. "But I will tell you ... it is also the same for the male population."
The gender-neutral standards being developed for combat-arms specialties are providing opportunities for Soldiers to do jobs based on capabilities, and not gender, race or ethnicity, she said.
The gender-neutral standards will ensure that combat-arms Soldiers don't need to worry about their counterparts, she said. "It's kind of distracting, if you have to worry about the person who is standing beside you, whether they can carry their load or not."
During the 2nd Cavalry exercise, she observed a female fire-support officer who was one of the first women to serve in that position. The battalion commander said the female lieutenant has performed as well as any of the men. So Lyon said women today are being presented opportunities that she was not as a younger Soldier.
She has some advice for young Soldiers: always strive to do the very best, to accept every opportunity presented, and to also make the most of every opportunity.
"Opportunities come along every day, if you look for them close enough," Lyon said.
(Editor's note: This is the final article in a series of five for this year's Women's History Month.)