FORT KNOX, Ky. -- March may be the month to celebrate women's history, but for the charter members of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command's (TSC) newest mentorship program, it's also a good time to invest in the future of the women in its ranks.
The 1st TSC Sisters in Arms, a program designed to help Soldiers achieve their personal and professional goals, met for the first time March 15 to establish rapport and discuss topics they want to focus on in the coming months.
"We're establishing Sisters in Arms as a program that's not just for females, but it will focus on areas likely to concern them," said Sgt. Maj. Tonya Cason, senior enlisted advisor, Support Operations (SPO), 1st TSC. "Some of the things we'll discuss is career progression, building a personal business, single parenting, physical fitness, and healthy lifestyles."
Sgt. Major Gail Lashley, senior enlisted advisor, logistics, G-4, was a member of U.S. Army Central's Sisters in Arms program in 2015, and she and Cason saw a need to establish a similar program for the 1st TSC.
"We have a lot of females who are in their first duty assignment, and we want to make sure they get the proper guidance and mentorship," Lashley said. "In a unit like this with so many high ranking individuals, it's easy for junior Soldiers and NCOs to get pushed under the carpet and forgotten about, but we're going to make sure this doesn't happen. We want to show them what they can do to progress."
Cason and Lashley set up a 10-member panel for the group with Soldiers ranging in rank from private first class to major to make sure the program is relevant for members all at stages of their career.
"This is a forum for everyone from private to officer," Lashley said. "We want our young Soldiers who are dealing with issues in the barracks to feel comfortable bringing them here and discussing them openly with senior enlisted and officers."
Cason said Sisters in Arms will be "a no rank zone" where Soldiers can step outside of the Army's hierarchy and discuss their experiences person-to-person.
"What is said here will stay here," she added.
After the members of the panel introduced themselves, the Soldiers who attended the first meeting introduced themselves and discussed their backgrounds.
Sgt. 1st Class Louella Tiitto, movement specialist, SPO, 1st TSC, said the attitudes of male servicemebers towards women in the ranks have changed dramatically since she first joined as an Air Force private in 1979.
"When I went to basic, the drill sergeant asked, 'What are you doing here?' Then he told me, 'You should be home making babies,' " she said.
After the Air Force, Tiitto was in the Navy from 1981 to 1985, the Army Reserves from 2002 to 2006, and the active duty Army since 2006. She said she is happy she no longer hears comments like she did 40 years ago.
"The military has become a lot more supportive of women and of families in general," she said. "When I was in the Navy, I would hear you weren't issued a family in your sea bag."
Besides Tiitto, even those with less time in the ranks have seen dramatic changes since their time in service.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Patricia Moreno, property book officer, 1st Special Troops Battalion, S-4, 1st TSC, joined the Army in 2001 and was stationed at Fort Riley, Kan. She deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the 1st Engineer Battalion and was among the first generation of female Soldiers to work side by side with males in a combat environment.
Moreno said after that deployment her commander and three of the female Soldiers she served with testified to Congress about their experiences which led to the establishment of Female Engagement Teams in Iraq and eventually the full integration of women in all Army military occupational specialties.
Whether you have 40 years, 20 years, or one year of experience under your belt, all 1st TSC Soldiers are welcome to attend Sisters in Arms, Lashley said.
The group plans to meet one Friday every month.