By Inkyeong Yun, BAACH Unit Public Affairs RepresentativeMarch 27, 2018
U.S. ARMY GARRISON - YONGSAN, KOREA -- Each March, the Department of Defense recognizes the achievements of women throughout history during Women's History Month. While women have served in the military since the 20th Century, Army women continue to break barriers and blaze the trail for others to come.
Holding a historical cane with the names prior 121st Combat Support Hospital/Brian Allgood Army Community Hospital commanders etched on metal plates, Col. Erica Clarkson gazes at more than 60 years of history. Her name stands on that cane in another first for military women as the first female commander.
Clarkson said every morning she walks into her office and looks at the cane, not because she's the hospital's first female commander, but as a relic representing the impressive leaders she follows. "This cane reminds me that we are here to make positive changes every day," she said. "It is truly an honor to have the opportunity to follow such a long list of distinguished leaders, in particular, my former commander Col. Brian Allgood."
In addition to serving behind great leaders, Clarkson said, "I feel especially blessed having an amazing hospital team to lead. And by my side is my battle buddy, Command Sgt. Maj. Nicole Haines, who replaced Command Sgt. Maj. Diahann White, two absolutely phenomenal women."
While Clarkson said it's rare to see all-female command teams, the combination works as evidenced by the tremendous success throughout the hospital. On several occasions, the hospital has been recognized as being the best in region for in-patient satisfaction, access to care, safety and various quality metrics.
Clarkson said her path hasn't always been easy, but she was determined to try her best to bring beneficial changes to every place she has served. "I try not to think about my gender," she said. "I try to lead using the education, experience and training I have received over the years and apply all the principles of good leadership."
Haines said from the moment she joined the team as the command sergeant major, the forward-looking atmosphere endorsed by Clarkson was evident and influenced the staff, leading to many accomplishments throughout the past two years.
"We are serving a dual mission as a combat support hospital and also a community hospital. The positive culture embraced by Col. Clarkson has helped us effectively complete our missions and deliver safety and satisfaction to our patients along with meeting all the strategic measures," said Haines.
In 2017, BAACH was also the first medical treatment facility in Regional Health Command-Pacific to receive the Army's Safety and Health Management System's star banner, while maintaining the ranking of number one in MEDCOM Behavioral Health critical initiatives for more than six months.
"As a senior leader, sometimes you experience challenges … and may even be double-challenged on your decisions. You should never be let down but remain strong in the fight even when the challenges seem overwhelming. Lift each other up within your reach, but reach even further to grab those who may need your strength. We can always influence those around us in a positive way," said Haines noting the importance of not letting gender be an obstacle, but instead serve as incentive to try harder.
"As I witness more and more female Soldiers advancing to leadership positions and thriving as leaders, I become more confident in saying that each day we are making new history with our ability to serve our country," said Clarkson. "We can set ourselves as an example to junior leaders and even to our future generation."
As senior leaders, both Clarkson and Haines, agreed one of the best parts of their positions is witnessing and encouraging positive changes and growth in junior leaders.
"As an example, we have two female company commanders out of five companies, Capt. Erika Rosales (Bravo Company) and Capt. Kyung Zimmerman (Charlie Company) in the hospital. When I see how resilient and dedicated they are as not just commanders, but also as mothers, it makes me proud. They manage their time effectively juggling between being a mom and a commander and excelling at both," said Clarkson appreciative of the example they set for junior Soldiers.
Zimmerman said her drive and motivation comes from her 5 year old daughter and the example she sets for her. Noting the balance required to give her best as a Soldier and a mother, Zimmerman said it is important to make the right choice. "Sometimes I may want to cut corners and take the easy way, but that's not what I learned from Col. Clarkson. I also want to be a mom of whom Aspen can be proud.
"Gender is irrelevant but your character does matter," said Zimmerman. "I was born and raised in Korea. If a girl from another country can come this far and take (command of) the biggest and most complex company in this hospital, anybody can do what they pursue to do if they have the right mindset and keep working on themselves. Don't take no as the answer and always take initiatives. Look out for opportunities but also train yourself so you can seize the opportunities when they become available."
Rosales said being a female commander should not be and is not any different than being a male in a command position. Instead, what makes her the commander she is now, is being able to intertwine the knowledge of her unique experiences as a mother, a wife and a nurse.
As the official celebration for Women's History Month in March draws to a close, members of 121st CSH/BAACH continue to write history. From the hospital's first female commander to growing and nurturing the next generation of the Army's leaders, they celebrate diversity daily.