FORT DETRICK, Md. -- When she arrived at basic training more than 20 years ago, Monnet Bushner said she quickly realized she would need to work harder than her male counterparts to stand out.
“As a female and a minority, I knew I already had two strikes against me,” said Bushner, a Bahamian-American who was 19 when she enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Bushner, now a sergeant major, serves as the top enlisted Soldier at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency, a direct reporting unit of Army Medical Logistics Command.
She is one of several leaders in the organization leading the command’s implementation of Project Inclusion, a holistic effort to increase diversity, equity and inclusion within the military.
“When I came in, I don’t ever remember hearing any discussions on equal opportunity, diversity, women and men having the same equal rights,” Bushner said. “For me, to combat that perception [of being weaker or less competent than my male counterparts], I had to show that I’m not just that. I wanted to be seen as an equal; as a peer.”
As the nation recognizes Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, which commemorates 100 years since women earned the constitutional right to vote, Bushner reflected on her 21-year enlisted career and the culture changes she’s seen in the Army.
"It's been a big difference,” she said. "The implementation of Project Inclusion along with relevant training to cover topics of discrimination, equality and respect show that we hold the most precious asset of an organization to be important and a priority. The most important asset is the people."
Bushner’s rise from combat medic to leader, she said, took assertiveness, determination and a drive to always improve.
“Looking back on history, it shows that we need to remain present as women and show that our voice will be heard,” she said. “We put ourselves in positions to make decisions -- not just stay in the back -- and affect change.”
Bushner said her experiences growing up in New Jersey and later California helped her develop a strong will and resilience that proved beneficial as a young Soldier looking to move up the ranks.
As a teenager in high school, Bushner said about 80% of her peers were Hispanic and affiliated with gangs in California. Those not part of the gangs were seen as outcasts and susceptible to attack, so she started an inclusive squad to help protect everyone else.
“We had the mixed people, black people, women; everybody that wasn’t part of a bigger group I tried to round up,” she said. “I didn’t want them to get jumped or beat up, so we had our thing to help be less of a target.
“That’s the first time I realized, we can still be diverse in a group and still have a say,” Bushner said. “You can still be a small population and have a voice.”
Bushner has kept that mindset throughout her career, drawing on her experience and learning from others along the way to help promote inclusivity and equity, while combating unconscious bias within the Army’s ranks.
“When I first came in, it was divided when it came to race. You would see everybody in their little groups,” Bushner said, referring to other enlistees at basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. “It’s not that people didn’t want to communicate … it was just nature to migrate to your own groups because that was what you were used to.”
Bushner said one big takeaway from sergeant major school in Fort Bliss, Texas was the value of diversity to a leader. Different points of view, backgrounds and experiences contribute to a well-rounded team that is stronger and can more easily adapt to changing environments and conditions.
“As a leader, I promise to be the best I can, treat people fairly and with respect,” she said. “I will treat everyone as an individual and promote that they do the best they can to be the best individual they can be. Every person is an individual and deserves our respect.”