ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - First Army brought all its Equal Opportunity advisors here Dec. 12 to ensure they have the tools necessary to carry out their crucial mission.

Sgt. 1st Class Charee Mayon, First Army Equal Opportunity advisor, said the 13 attendees of the Equal Opportunity Workshop came from First Army's nine brigades and two divisions, which are spread across the nation.

"We wanted to bring everyone together, since we're dispersed in different locations," she said. "Also, the majority of EOs that are here today are new to the organization, so it was about bringing them together, letting them know First Army policy, what First Army's expectations of the EO program are, and giving them the opportunity to meet EO advisors they are going to be working with."

The EO program formulates, directs, and sustains a comprehensive effort to maximize human potential to ensure fair treatment for military personnel, family members, and civilians without regard to race, color, gender, religion, or national origin, and provide an environment free of unlawful discrimination and offensive behavior.

Workshop topics included the First Army commanding general's mission and vision, EO systems, best practices, observance funding, command climate surveys, and the training that EO advisors are expected to give.

Mayon said a successful workshop would be one where the EO advisors all left with having gotten something useful from it. "We also want this to be a workshop where everyone participates and where we get feedback, and we all leave with more than we came with. That means more knowledge, better networking, and a deeper understanding of the process," she said.

In opening remarks, First Army Deputy Commanding General for Support, Maj. Gen. Chris Gentry, told the attendees their jobs are "vitally important."

"You have to be out there, you have to be seen, you have to get to know folks, and you have to develop that rapport," he said. "You're not commanders, but you have a very important role in keeping awareness about such a critical topic in the forefront of everyone's mind."

Equal Opportunity seems especially vital in today's climate, the general added.

"You'd have to be living under a rock to not see what's going on," he said. "And some of that bleeds over in the EO realm a little bit, in terms of the way women are treated in the workplace. If you see something cropping up in the EO realm, it could be a bridge to more egregious behavior down the road."

Although EO has expanded and become more appreciated over the decades, an entrenched resistance must still be overcome, Gentry said.

"I have seen how the EO enterprise has grown over 30 years," he said. "The Army is resistant to change, and I think there's still a mentality that sees issues such as EO as one of those soft subjects, one of those that we do if we have time or it's the mandatory training we have to do."

It is imperative that EO advisors ensure commanders realize the program's value, Gentry continued.

"You have to communicate to your leaders and ingrain in them how absolutely important it is to have a very disciplined, balanced perspective about equal opportunity and diversity in the workplace," he said. "It's critically important for us if we are to have an effective warfighting force."