Women veterans make important contributions to several different organizations that are located at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts. In recognition of Women's History Month coming up in March, and in honor of all women who have served in our nation's military, this article profiles just a few of Team Natick's female veterans.
Nelia Dias is an auditor in the Office of the Chief of Staff at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, or the CCDC Soldier Center.
"I enlisted when I was 17 years old, not yet a citizen of the United States, but I knew serving in the military was something I was meant for," said Dias. "I had a short break in service, but the day before war was declared with Iraq in 2003, I reenlisted. Since then, I have been deployed three times: Iraq (Oct 2004-January 2006), Kuwait (September 2010-September 2011), and Guantanamo Bay (April 2017-March 2018). In total, I've served for 18 years -- half of those spent as enlisted and half as a commissioned officer -- and proudly still serving."
Dias is an adept problem-solver, a skill she brings to her roles as both an officer in the Army and as an auditor for the CCDC Soldier Center.
"As an officer in the Army, we never bring a problem to our commander without having a viable solution," said Dias. "This solution is usually one that offers better efficiency or effectiveness to the problem."
Dias explained that auditing plays an important role in an organization.
"Auditing adds value and insight. I provide information to improve performance, financial management, operational efficiency and cost reductions, as well as facilitate decision making and contribute to accountability," said Dias. "Auditing is a means of assisting management in improving its operations, not just identifying problems or weaknesses."
Dias is proud to know that her work benefits the warfighter.
"If what I do affects the Soldiers positively, then there's no better feeling," said Dias.
Laurie Gordon works as a human resource specialist (Military) in the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine located at the Natick Soldier Systems Center. She is one of many female veterans working in USARIEM who are making important contributions to the warfighter and Team Natick.
Gordon is responsible for executing all military HR programs, Personnel Readiness, Accountability and Strength Reporting. She also performs essential personnel service-record updates and reviews, evaluations, awards and orders. She prepares all finance documents related to pay.
Gordon believes her experience as a veteran helps her in her current job.
"I did not have the same job when I was serving, but being a veteran you know what a Soldier needs," said Gordon.
She is proud to be in a position that helps the warfighter.
"The easiest way to put a Soldier's mind at ease is to make sure their pay and personnel records are correct," said Gordon. "It's what I do on a daily basis. For me Soldiers come first, whether you're in my unit or not. If I can help, I will."
Alyssa Carter is a program advisory specialist (human resources) in the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine, or USARIEM. Carter is one of the many women veterans making important contributions to USARIEM and Team Natick.
As the program advisory specialist, Carter works to establish the best result for each Request for Personnel Action, or RPA, and is responsible for initiating all RPA's within the institute. She also provides operational services in the areas of recruitment/ placement, separation, position description classification, performance management, benefits, employee and labor relations, and employee development and training -- to name just a few of her many duties.
Carter believes her military experience helps her to do her current job.
"I enlisted in the Army as a human resource specialist," said Carter. "Having this background, I began working at USARIEM already having a sound understanding of policies and procedures, rank and organizational structures, and much more."
All of these skills are needed when interpreting central methodology or processing various personnel actions within the federal government.
"After nearly a decade in the Army, I walked away with the knowledge of basic management principles and concepts of typical administrative and operational support positions," Carter continued. "I became more efficient at performing a full range of tasks including non-routine administrative functions in support of government management and office operations. Aside from the technical aspect, it also taught me responsibility and how to prioritize in stressful situations. My experiences have made me more aware of the necessities and conditions of service members in and out of the field. Undoubtedly, having served in my MOS set me up for the opportunity for federal employment in the administrative field."
Carter is proud to support an institute that's main goals are to help improve and study the health and performance of service members.
"I like to think I play a positive role in the morale of our employees by working with the personnel behind the amazing science, who diligently work to improve the quality of the warfighter," said Carter. "They dedicate their careers to developing and advancing various products or techniques for the military and all who serve. As a HR rep, I am allowed the opportunity of serving the federal civilian employees of USARIEM by means of better maximizing their career capabilities which in-turn strengthens our organization and its mission."
Debi Dawson's career has been based on her unyielding dedication to the warfighter.
Dawson is currently the deputy director, G-9, Strategic Engagements and Communications at the CCDC Soldier Center. Dawson was previously the deputy director of Strategic Communications at Program Executive Office Soldier, or PEO Soldier. She is one of the many female veterans making important contributions to Team Natick.
Dawson retired from the military after serving more than 15 years.
"I retired from the office of John Hamre, the Deputy Secretary of Defense," said Dawson. "It was an incredible experience."
She currently feels right at home working for an organization dedicated to the warfighter, and she is literally coming home. Dawson was born and raised in Natick, Massachusetts.
"It's all about the Soldier," said Dawson. "It's all about making sure that the Soldier has the best kit -- including helmet, body armor, and other equipment -- so that he or she comes home alive."
One of most impactful aspects of her job is helping with personal protective equipment returns, or PPE returns.
"Doing this job, I've been out and about and have traveled the world," said Dawson. "But one of the most rewarding things that I have done is support PPE returns. I would present a Soldier with the body armor or helmet that protected him or her from actual rounds."
Meeting the families of these Soldiers was a poignant experience.
"Knowing that the equipment saved their lives and meeting their families was incredibly moving," said Dawson. "Hearing a mom and dad, or a husband or wife, thank you for doing what you do is a very emotional and rewarding experience."
Vannessa Josey wears many hats, and she wears all of them well.
Josey was serving as a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office at the U.S. Army Garrison Natick, or USAG Natick, when she, as an U.S. Army Reserve Soldier, was activated to active duty with the XVIII Airborne Corps.
She was deployed as a public affairs noncommissioned officer. Her current job title is Joint Operations Center PA watch chief.
Josey is committed to serving her country in both a civilian and military capacity and notes that good team dynamics are essential.
"I find that when I am in my civilian position, it is very much like being with my Soldiers in my unit or being deployed," said Josey. "We have a bond and a way of getting to the point of what we are doing pretty quickly -- leaving a lot of time to actually do the job at hand. It's as if we already know and understand that we have all been there. We have had to do the job under extreme duress. It takes a lot to get any of us in an uproar."
Josey is known for her professionalism and sense of humor.
"Each and every day, I walk into work and I am happy," said Josey. "I don't even consider it work. It's not a job. It's something I love to do."
The folks at Natick are proud of Josey and eagerly await her return to USAG Natick.
Eryn Flynn has a "can do it" attitude and a "conduit" attitude.
Flynn is an Army veteran and a captain in the Army Reserve who currently works as an equipment specialist/analyst on the CCDC Soldier Center's Soldier Squad Interface Team. The team works as an important conduit and connection between Soldiers and the scientists and engineers who develop their equipment.
Her military experience makes her a perfect fit for a team that has established strong relationships with several Army units. The team facilitates and enables communication and interaction between Army researchers and Soldiers, helping to ensure the equipment researchers are developing will meet Soldier needs.
Members of the team, all of whom are veterans, are adept at gathering crucial data and administering surveys to help researchers develop the best equipment in the world. The team works closely with members of the Soldier Center's Consumer Research Team who develop the surveys. The team serves as a bridge for researchers across DOD, academia, and industry who are seeking much needed Soldier input and participation.
"I am still currently serving as an Army reservist, a logistics officer," said Flynn. "My military experience in operations and the knowledge I obtained from actually using the gear is something I can bring to my job and to the units."
Scott Germain, team leader for the Squad Interface Team, is himself a seasoned Army veteran. Germain retired as a Sergeant Major after serving for 25 years, including 4 � years in the Infantry and just over 20 years in Special Operations.
Germain believes Flynn's experience and insight as a veteran makes her a valuable addition to "a team that establishes collaborative partnerships with operational units that enable the opportunity for Army scientists, engineers, partners and stakeholders to observe, participate, assess, evaluate and develop material and non-material solutions for combatant commanders."
"There is simply no substitute for operational Army experience given the relationship-based nature of our mission," said Germain. "To be a Soldier Squad Interface Team member means you are very familiar with the structure, organization and culture of the Army at large."
"We provide the accurate, unbiased, un-skewered data that both sides need," said Flynn. "The units have incredibly busy schedules, but because they know and trust us, they are aware of how much Soldier input is valued and needed. They are an integral part of the process in equipment and product development. The bottom line is all about getting Soldiers the best equipment possible to suit their mission and make them safer and more effective in today's multi-domain battlefield."
Flynn is the team's only woman and she believes that male or female, "a Soldier is a Soldier is a Soldier." However, having a woman on the team can add a better understanding of the specific equipment needs of female Soldiers.
"Having a woman on the team provides us with a greater understanding as to what challenges female Soldiers are facing while allowing the female Soldiers being evaluated the opportunity to speak with a team member who may better relate to those challenges," said Germain.
Alison Spurr, a management analyst in the USAG Natick, enlisted in the Marine Corps during a time when very few career fields were available to women.
"Back in the day, there were very few jobs that were open to women enlisting in the USMC," said Spurr. "The most common were in the secretarial or food service fields."
After boot camp, Spurr was sent to Camp Lejeune to receive specialized training to become a baker. She was then stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Tustin in Tustin, California.
"I later found out that the ratio of males to females was something like 100:1, and the ratio of cooks to bakers was about 15:1," said Spurr.
There were only two people who had completed baker training where she was stationed.
"There were only two of us at our chow hall to make six or seven different items for 3,000 to 6,000 hungry Marines a day," said Spurr. "Baking for that many was a real challenge, though it was rewarding to see how much they enjoyed the baked goods and desserts that we made from scratch. While many may think that baking wasn't an important job in the military, I know that we contributed to the morale of the Marines who were serving so far from home -- especially when apple pie or chocolate chip cookies were on the menu. It was a lot of hard work and extremely long hours, but I really enjoyed most of it."
Her military experience helped make her the person she is today.
"My time in the military greatly improved my empathy for other people, and I can really identify with some of the unique feelings and challenges that members of the military and their families may be going through," said Spurr.
She's proud to currently be part of the Army civilian workforce.
"Being an Army civilian gives me a lot of pride and personal satisfaction in knowing that whatever work I do, though it may not support a Soldier directly, it very likely plays a part in enabling someone who does," said Spurr.
Sarah Ross is one of many female veterans working in the CCDC Soldier Center.
Ross is the human research volunteer program manager at the Soldier Center and a veteran noncommissioned officer. She was also a medic assigned to Headquarters Research and Development Detachment, or HRDD, when she was a Soldier 10 years ago.
Being a former Soldier makes Ross a perfect fit for a job that involves research benefiting the Soldier and a great deal of interaction with Soldiers.
"It is such a privilege to me to be able to interact with our Soldiers like I do," said Ross. "Getting to tell our story to Soldiers new to the Army and their leaders to get their buy in for participation to support what we do for them . . . It really is incredible, and I am grateful for the opportunity to get to know all of these selfless Soldiers and form friendships while supporting the research that is needed for them."
Crystal Harry's career continues to fly high.
Harry is a management analyst in the Plans, Analysis and Integration Office in the USAG Natick, and she has been in the Air Force for 15 years.
She served active duty and then joined the reserve, where she continues to serve as an E-8, senior master sergeant. Her first job was as a command and control technician within the Command Post, and she is now the chief of Force Development at the Westover Air Reserve Base.
Harry's military experience makes her an important part of the Natick team.
"I believe the biggest benefit my military service has given me are skill sets," said Harry. "Not only did I learn job skills but also management and organization skills, and throughout my service the military has helped me to continuously develop those skills, making me effective in the civilian workforce. Specifically here at Natick, my joint military service has helped me to understand the Army mission and work towards that goal."
Harry is proud to be part of an organization dedicated to the warfighter.
"For me it is fulfilling and it adds intrinsic value to my job," said Harry. "Being a veteran and a veteran's spouse, helping others who serve is very important to me -- so having a full-time job that contributes in any way to the warfighter means a lot."
Elizabeth Kafel is an attorney in the CCDC Soldier Center's Office of the Chief Counsel.
Kafel served for four years of active duty with the Army. She then switched to the Air Force Reserve and is currently still serving. She was a direct commissionee after law school into the USA Judge Advocate General, or JAG, Corps. She served mostly in Korea and Virginia.
After a short break in service, she joined the United States Air Force Reserve JAG Corps and is currently stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona.
"My military service exposes me to the direct needs of the warfighter because I know that what we do at CCDC Soldier Center personally impacts both me and my fellow battle buddies/wingman," said Kafel. "I am confident in the field knowing that there are hard-working folks at Natick from shelters, feeding, uniforms, and more that are supporting the warfighter and enhancing our experience at home and abroad. This perspective helps me do my job as a contracts attorney with a sense of purpose to procure and field products and services necessary for those in uniform to do their jobs safely and effectively."
Erica Gottberg is a paralegal specialist in the Office of the Chief Counsel at the CCDC Soldier Center.
She served in the military as a paralegal specialist noncommissioned officer. She also served for 11 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum.
In addition, she was also deployed to Iraq with 167th Combat Support Brigade and 1st Infantry Division and was called up to serve homeland security after 9/11.
Gottberg is yet another female veteran making an important contribution to TEAM Natick.
MCKENZIE D. CROWELL
McKenzie D. Crowell is an item Manager in the Soldier-Product Support Integration Directorate, U.S. Army Tank-automotive & Armaments Command, Integrated Logistics Support Center's QMS Readiness Branch.
Crowell enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in 2009 as a signal support systems specialist and was primarily responsible for working with battlefield signal support systems and terminal devices.
Since then she has continued to have an impressive Army career, including serving in Bahrain and Afghanistan, and is still going strong.
In April of 2018, she was selected as a warrant officer candidate and is currently awaiting to attend school in early May 2019.
"I plan to continue my military career for many years to come and am eternally grateful for the friendships, knowledge, and opportunities it has bestowed on me," said Crowell.
Crowell believes her extensive logistics experience obtained over the course of her career have prepared her well for her current position.
"I believe my logistics background has significantly assisted me when I on boarded this past June," said Crowell. "Having worked on staff in several high commands OCONUS in real-world operations, I am used to working in a high stress, high operation tempo environment and can effectively execute my missions on time and to a respectable standard. In my experience of working with civilians while in uniform, I have found that there can sometimes be a knowledge or communication gap between the two entities. Now in my position as a currently serving reservist, I believe I offer a fresh perspective and am able to liaison effectively with our uniformed customers."
She is proud to serve the warfighter.
"I am very proud to know what I do benefits the warfighter," said Crowell. "I have always felt a great sense of pride when I'm in uniform, and now I am able to feel that just as strongly when I go to my civilian job."
Nicole Bernier is a contract specialist in the Army Contracting Command-Aberdeen Proving Ground, Natick Contract Division, or NCD.
Bernier served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2002 to 2006. She believes that understanding military culture helps her in her current position.
She is proud of her service and remains dedicated to serving the warfighter.
"Every contract NCD awards supports the warfighter, whether directly or indirectly," said Bernier.
Sharon Komola-Evans is a secretary in the Expeditionary Protection Branch in the Expeditionary Maneuver Support Directorate at the CCDC Soldier Center.
Komola-Evans served in the Army as a radio and communications security (COMSEC) repairer. She later transitioned to the Army Reserve and was honorably discharged in 2002.
She believes that her military service helps her in her current job.
In the Army, she worked in the European Theatre Command Center Radio Room, where she "interacted with several other U.S. military branches, as well as specific components of the Army on a regular basis, overcoming our differences in rank and branch in order to work jointly on a mission until successful completion."
Her Army background has helped her to have confidence and enhanced her work ethic.
"Here at the CCDC Soldier Center, we interact across different directorates, sometimes involving other military branches and my background of doing so helps me perform with confidence," said Komola- Evans. "Working at the European Theatre Command Center Radio Room also had me interacting with several high-ranking officers, which goes a long way when dealing with high-ranking members of both our military and the civilian workforce, with a little more ease. My work ethic definitely has been enhanced by my service in the Army, as has my attention to detail and desire to successfully complete all tasks effectively and efficiently -- which contributes to and helps to ensure mission success. I believe that being a Soldier has definitely helped me do my job here at CCDC Soldier Center."
Komola-Evans is proud to work at a place committed to serving the warfighter.
"It feels amazing to know that what I do benefits today's warfighter," said Komala-Evans. "I really enjoyed serving my country in the Army, and now I can continue to do so, albeit on the civilian side, until I retire. I take great pride in my role here at CCDC."
At the end of the day, installation security is all-important. Yolanda Spence, a female veteran who works in Security for the USAG Natick, helps keep the installation safe and secure.
Spence spent eleven years in the U.S. Army serving her country and continues to be dedicated to her country in her current civilian position.
We are indebted to all the men and women who have served our great country. This article shared the stories of just a few women veterans in honor of Women's History Month coming up in March. We thank them for their continued contributions to our country.