Following a workshop focused on ending discrimination and bigotry last month, Eighth Army’s Equal Opportunity office sprang into action to address recommendations and concerns voiced by the 100-plus participants.
“The purpose of the workshop was to understand the current operating environment with regards to discrimination and bigotry and what we want our future environment to look like,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Opalinski, Eighth Army EO Program manager. “We got a lot of great responses and feedback with a suggestion list of 36 separate items that we can do at Eighth Army that will get us in the right direction where there is less discrimination and bigotry.”
Many of the workshop attendees suggested changing policies viewed as discriminatory or offensive.
Some suggestions Eighth Army EO was able to act on quickly were the removal of certain dress code posters around USAG Humphreys viewed as discriminatory and creating EO “smart cards” to assist Soldiers and commanders with understanding EO policies along with tips for discussing EO topics. As a result, more gender- and ethnic-neutral posters have been designed and a seven-page smart card booklet is ready to be printed and distributed to units.
“Out of those 36 suggestions, we identified maybe a dozen that we could implement immediately with little time, little money and something that was in the power of (Lt. Gen. Michael Bills, Eighth Army commanding general), either with an exception to policy or simply change of procedure,” Opalinski said.
Eighth Army G3 is also working to refine the Eighth Army Blue Book to take potential discriminatory language out, a lot of which had to do with off-duty dress codes that some viewed as discriminating, according to Opalinski.
While Eighth Army is leaning forward in U.S. Forces Korea’s “Strength in Diversity” campaign, it’s important to note the U.S. Army’s Equal Opportunity Program has been serving Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians for years. Equal opportunity advisors and leaders are located in units from company to battalion level. More than ever, it’s important to understand EO’s mission and for people to be able to locate their unit EO office and/or their EO advisor.
“One of the overarching themes of the workshop was people just don’t know about the existing EO program,” said Opalinski. “Many of the things people were requesting are things that commanders and equal opportunity advisors and EO leaders are already tasked to do as part of our regulation —getting the word out is on us.”
The Eighth Army community across the peninsula can expect to see informational posters and kiosks where people can make suggestions with the option of doing so anonymously. The posters feature contact information to point Soldiers and civilians in the right direction in case they have an EO issue. Eighth Army EO has also created a hotline (DSN 755-2535/010-8520-4656) to call where Soldiers can talk to an EO representative anonymously if they wish.
Along with the Eighth Army Public Affairs Office, EO has also created a web page where people can get the 24-hour EO hotline number or submit an anonymous email. The web page is located at https://8tharmy.korea.army.mil/site/resource/equal-opportunity.asp.
“One of the concerns brought up at the June workshop was the fear of reprisal and retaliation when a Soldier makes a complaint,” said Opalinski. “There are procedures established where commanders establish a plan to protect complainants and subjects from reprisal. The commander is obligated to protect you from reprisal, but we did not have an anonymous mechanism yet in case those fears of reprisal could not be alleviated.”
While Eighth Army’s EO hotline and office door is open to everyone, Opalinski said the first step is to try and solve an EO issue at the lowest level possible.
“We always encourage Soldiers to confront the alleged offender first,” he said. “It could be a comment not intended to be harmful made out of ignorance. They can say, ‘hey, that offended me.’ Then the problem could be solved right there. Maybe the offender didn’t know what he or she was doing. If the Soldier doesn’t want to do that then the next option would be to see the company or battalion EO leader who is trained in the EO Leaders Course to help Soldiers resolve informal complaints. If that doesn’t work then the Soldier can engage the chain of command. In the end, the unit commander is going to provide the remedy.”
Regarding civilian employees, military EO offices can listen to informal complaints, but civilians are best served by civilian Equal Employment Opportunity offices at their local installations or units. Opalinski said military EO practices are regulatory in nature while civilian EO practices are statutory, implemented by the federal government. Military versus civilian EO conflicts (and vice versa) can be handled by both Army EO and civilian EEO, but ultimately everyone works for the same commander, Opalinski said.
The next Strength and Diversity workshop is planned for September with the aim to get all the June participants back for a discussion and the possible creation of a permanent diversity council. People can also look forward to Aug. 26, which is Women’s Equality Day.
Strength in Diversity is not just a slogan, but the way forward in Eighth Army’s operations.
“The words speak for themselves,” Opalinski said. “We’re a diverse nation. We do and we need to draw our strength from that diversity.”