CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea –The 501st Military Intelligence Brigade command team held its first Strength in Diversity Council meeting, Oct. 21.
In the wake of the protest in the United States and the banning of the confederate flag from military installations, the 501st MI Brigade leadership pledged the brigade to achieve positive change with the new council.
The discussions and focus sessions within the brigade, stemmed from guidance received from United States Forces Korea Commander, Gen. Robert Abrams. The council consisted of representatives from across the brigade and the command team, which had a diverse representation of ethnic, age, gender, military and civilian viewpoints.
The meeting began with group members introducing themselves and providing an idea of their contribution to council membership from their unique background, knowledge, or perspective.
Col. Paul Oh, commander, 501st MI Brigade, recounted his story, how he was born in Seoul before moving with his family to the United States, eventually joining the U.S. Army because he believed it is an institution that values meritocracy. He asked the council members to help him see where the brigade is and where it needs to go to be inclusive of all its diverse team members.
During remarks from council members, one member revealed to leadership that some African-American Soldiers might want to extend and stay longer in Korea due to feeling safer here than back in the United States with the racial inequality in police treatment toward people of color.
Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Martino stated that the command team is committed to rooting out problems and said he will be the Soldiers’ advocate all the way up to the Sergeant Major of the Army, if necessary, to get the job done.
All the battalion Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs) were present for the meeting and had shared prior the efforts that led to the council’s formation.
Chief Warrant Officer Monroe Staples, property book officer and EOL for 532nd MI Battalion explained after the initial round of talks; he had a conversation with his battalion commander, Lt. Col. David Hazelton, who expressed that he didn’t want the process’s momentum to stop. He saw that what was happening back in the States with peoples’ family members was not something that he could affect, but noticed he could affect change within his organization.
With this in mind, he gathered his leaders and equal opportunity representatives and had educational discussions so everyone could have a collective shared understanding that if something is said or done intentionally or unintentionally and it is hurtful to our brother or sister-in-arms that it affects the entire organization.
Staples did some further research and found a chart that discussed micro-aggressions, micro-discrimination, micro-insults and micro-invalidation. These are touchy issues for some people, Staples said, and because of some peoples’ cultural upbringing, they may not understand someone else’s view point on these issues. However, it becomes problematic when they try to willfully and consciously dismiss or disregard the fact that another person is experiencing what they are experiencing.
The chart was presented to company command teams as a teaching point after a battalion command and staff meeting. The commanders were on-board and each company has had their talks addressing those issues. Staples also broached the idea of having learning lunches for the battalion, where they would talk about historical issues, and finding the practicality in them today.
Command Sgt. Maj. Vanessa Gonzalez, 3rd MI Battalion said, “We are doing several things at the battalion level to support the Strength in Diversity lines of effort. We have continued our weekly command team breakfasts. Once a week, Lt. Col. (Travis) Godfrey and I have breakfast with different groups of our formation. The intent is to provide an opportunity for all Soldiers to give us feedback and also get to know one another better.
We also did an NCO (noncommissioned officer) professional development session on emotional intelligence. The intent was to provide our junior NCOs the tools they need to continue the dialogue. During the NCOPD we discussed ways we can improve our self-awareness, social awareness and how to strengthen relationships and trust amongst our ranks and have those discussions.”
Maj. David Sinon, executive officer, 524th MI Battalion, said they consolidated personnel from Areas I, II, and III to Camp Humphreys and held a stand-down where their command team addressed the formation, then held a facilitated small group discussions led by their chaplain and EOLs. He emphasized that to help create a permissive environment for open dialogue, minimize rank consciousness, and convey the importance of individuality, the Soldiers wore civilian attire during our small group sessions.
Sinon said they continue to encourage small group dialogue.
Sgt. 1st Class Natalie Handy, EOL for the 719th MI Battalion, said her battalion has been holding speak out sessions during which Soldiers discuss issues and personal feelings about racial relations experienced both inside and outside of the Army.
“We have done sensing sessions with Soldiers from all three companies ranging from private 1st class to lieutenant colonel,” said Handy. “The battalion and company command teams, NCOs and Soldiers have attended the sessions. We do not have a sign in roster because I want Soldiers to feel comfortable coming without it turning into an ‘Army forcing function’ or something to check the block. A variety of Soldiers have attended from week to week.”
Handy continued to explain two issues that were brought up were the “Unacceptable Wear posters” and “Blue Book verbiage.” Since discussions, the posters have been taken down and the Blue Book is under revision. She said they continue to meet every Thursday at noon, when not facing COVID-19 restrictions.
“The companies can do their own sessions, but Sergeant First Class (Dameon) Crockett and I have been facilitating the discussions at the battalion level,” said Handy. “Our plan is to continue to meet and discuss the issues, to come up with solutions and education.”
The 501st Military Intelligence Brigade provides indications and early warning of actions by opposing forces that could threaten the tense but stable peace in the Republic of Korea. In the event of hostilities, the brigade’s mission shifts to providing combined, multi-discipline intelligence and force protection support to the United Nations Command/Combined Forces Command, the CFC Ground Component Command and their subordinate units.