By Capt. Jessica Rovero (USAREC)April 6, 2018
"Pioneering women have paved the way for others to follow and surpass their goals. The women in the Army are no different."
This was the opening line delivered by Brig. Gen. Kevin Vereen, U.S. Army Recruiting Command deputy commanding general of operations and event host, during the Women's History Month Observance at Fort Knox March 29.
Vereen highlighted women's service back to the Revolutionary War and how their role evolved as more women joined to serve their country, and how it changed to what it is today. He said women can now serve in all Army occupations and should tell their stories.
"When a young woman is considering joining the Army, we want her to envision her role in the Army and the best way to do that is by providing an example -- not one but many," Vereen said. "It reaffirms their dreams and goals that they can achieve and rise to the highest levels of our Army."
He listed one example as Brig. Gen. Irene Zoppi, deputy commanding general of support at 200th Military Police Command and guest speaker at the Fort Knox event. One of five children, Zoppi grew up in Puerto Rico and began her Army career as a private first class in 1985 before becoming the first Puerto Rican woman promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve.
"Brig. Gen. Zoppi serves as a role model for women in the Army. She sought to serve her country and forged a path to success so that other Soldiers, female and male, can follow," Vereen said as he introduced her.
Zoppi opened by speaking Spanish and sharing her love of culture and how the Army has allowed her to grow and experience a diverse array of cultures from around the world.
"As a PFC in the Army, you never think that you are going to get the opportunity that you get to this moment," Zoppi said. "I'm a general officer. I started as a PFC back in 1985. When you do the numbers, you realize what an incredible Army we have that a PFC from Puerto Rico, who did not know any English whatsoever, would come today and be a keynote speaker. Do you see how incredible the Army is?"
While the observance celebrated women's history, Zoppi focused on a more inclusive message of diversity in general.
"We are here to inspire each other. We are here to remember that history is part of our heritage," Zoppi said. "It allows us to remember the difficulties and challenges and many obstacles of struggle of both men and women have toward diversity … to make our nation greater."
Zoppi emphasized the importance of embracing the different talents and cultures of individuals within an organization because they enrich units. She also stated emphatically that discrimination has no place in the Army.
"Therefore, today we reflect on the greatest of women who encountered forms of discrimination, so we remember their struggles, so we do not repeat them," Zoppi said.
Her list included Lt. Susan Ann Goody, who became the first Asian-American women to join the Navy in 1942, and Pvt. Lee Blackfoot, who became the first Native American woman to enlist in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943. The common factors of success she noted among the women were loyalty to truth, the ability to stand their ground, their personal faith and people to support them as well as the ability to focus on the task, to know that things are temporary, to imagine the future, and to be, know and do.
Zoppi finished by sharing some of her story.
She said the reason she joined the Army was because of her father. One day, after he told her the Army did not need women, she told him she was going to join. From there, her drive, passion, motivation and faith, as well as the support of others throughout her career, carried her to where she is today.
"The story of women is not about women by themselves; it's women with men and with brothers and sisters. This is what I believe … this is a community that inspires each other," Zoppi said. "Keep inspiring each other."