By Michael MaddoxSeptember 15, 2017
The concept of equality of all Soldiers, no matter their race, color, sex to include gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or national origin, is a bedrock of military values. Leaders understand that the best way to accomplish this is to provide an environment free of discrimination and offensive behavior--from the top of the chain of command all the way down to the newest Soldiers.
While many seasoned Soldiers have had a fair amount of training on equal opportunity issues thanks to years of annual requirements, there is still a large number of Soldiers who do not have as much experience or education on the topic--junior Soldiers.
To fill this gap, U.S. Army Cadet Command Equal Opportunity office held their first EO Ambassadors Course Aug. 28-30. The course provided junior Soldiers the tools to recognize and take action on equal opportunity issues, said Master Sgt. William Howell, senior equal opportunity advisor/program manager, U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox.
"The object of this course is to show them how they see themselves and how to embrace other Soldiers' differences," he said. "This course gives them in-depth knowledge of not only the overall program, but self-awareness, what discrimination looks like and the other skills needed to be able to communicate effectively. The more EO ambassadors we have, the less likelihood discrimination will occur. We want them to know that it's OK to say something when they see something that could be an EO violation."
"We're also teaching them the interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts, to give feedback and basically interact with their peers about EO or any other issues they may face in the unit," added Howell. "They will be liaisons for the EO program. They can go back and tell their friends what the EO program is and hopefully get everyone to be an EO ambassador. Our goal is to have every Soldier be an EO ambassador."
Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Kraus, command sergeant major for U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, was the first speaker for the course, and he reminded the students of the importance of Soldiers treating one another equally.
"We are a values- based organization," Kraus said. "We can and do have tolerances for different ideas, cultures, genders and religions. The problem is some people have a nontolerance for that, but everyone should be seen as equal. Some of that is hard to impress because some people get so myopic in their views that they see through only one lens, and it's tragic when that happens.
"You have to look at what a Soldier's character is. Between character and competence, I can fix competence. I can retrain you to do better at the range or a *physical training) test but once you lose your character, it's hard to get it back. It's in your demeanor, who you hang out with, what you talk about. When you decide to wear this uniform, you are no longer a private citizen--you're in the public eye and everything you do is in the public lens as you represent this uniform and the nation."
Pvt. Jessica Gonzalez, a behavioral specialist with U.S. Army Medical Department Activity at Fort Knox and newly educated EO ambassador, said she more prepared to handle EO situations.
"Before, when I would think of EO, I would think strictly of race, sex and religion as the main complaints," she said. "There were also just small things that I wasn't exactly sure about, like who to go to. It was nice to hear everyone else's opinions and things that they have experienced.
"Now I have a better understanding of what types of things or comments from people could possibly lead to an EO complaint. Now I know what to do in those situations instead of just sitting there, feeling uncomfortable or seeing someone else who is uncomfortable, I know exactly what to do."
Filling in that knowledge gap is critical to accomplishing missions every day, said Howell.
"EO is important to the Army because if you have discrimination issues of any kind, it lowers the morale in the unit," he said, "which can cause issues which ultimately affect your mission."