William Beaumont Army Medical Center held an award ceremony for Sgt. 1st Class Latoya Nievesgonzales, equal opportunity advisor, WBAMC, as she was recognized as U.S. Army Medical Command's (MEDCOM) Equal Opportunity Advisor (EOA) of the Year for 2017, at WBAMC, Aug. 30.
Equal opportunity advisors ensure commanders are prepared to sustain a comprehensive effort to maximize human potential and ensure fair treatment for all persons based solely on merit, fitness and capability in support of readiness.
"Equal opportunity across the Army is critical, it is a key part of readiness," said Master Sgt. Eric McCants, MEDCOM's senior EOA who oversees all EOAs across MEDCOM. "It's how we interact and bring diversity and inclusion to the table. There's a lot of initiatives out there for recruiting people of different backgrounds into the Army."
Nievesgonzales, a preventive medicine specialist, has been assigned as WBAMC's EOA since 2016.
Aside from advising and assisting the unit with equal opportunity matters, Nievesgonzales also oversaw and organized monthly EO observances, celebrating diversity throughout the organization, with each month dedicated to a national EO theme, such as women's equality, Hispanic heritage and African American History, to name a few. The monthly observances raised awareness throughout WBAMC and were open to all staff, patients and visitors at the hospital.
"This is a great Soldier right here," said Col. Erik Rude, commander, WBAMC. "If you've never interfaced with her that may be a good thing. Having been in (the Army) for a long time, I've seen both sides (of the effects the quality of the unit EOA has). I've seen where you do not have a good EOA and Soldiers are adding gasoline to the fire (of discrimination). (Nievesgonzales) put out fires. She tried to get with individuals, never judged them, always listened to what they had to say and on many occasions we were able to sit down with the Soldier and (find solutions)."
Nievesgonzales, a native of Summerville, South Carolina, credited leaders at Regional Health Command-Central, WBAMC's higher headquarters, for guiding her through the two years as she handled EO concerns.
While WBAMC does have a diverse employee population of civilians and Soldiers, Nievesgonzales is oversees the fair treatment of over 1,000 Soldiers at the hospital.
"Training, mediation, talking with the Soldiers, getting ahead of perceptions to stop concerns, that's where we make our money," said McCants. "Being there before something goes wrong (is what EOAs should do) and she's done an excellent job at that. (Nievesgonzales) is out there in the force, she's visible and very accessible to the staff."
According to McCants, most concerns are perception-based and unsubstantiated, meaning there isn't discrimination going on but the staff member may feel there is and Nievesgonzales helps clarify that reality.
During the ceremony, Nievesgonzales was presented the Army Commendation Medal for her selection as MEDCOM's EOA of the year and was also presented the Meritorious Service Medal for her service to the Soldiers during her time at WBAMC as she prepares for a new assignment at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
"If (staff) does have a concern or complaint, listen to your civilians and Soldiers," advised Nievesgonzales. "A lot of issues can be handled at that level. Don't take a side, see their sides."