Female Soldiers Empowered Through Shared Experiences

By Maj. James SheehanJanuary 29, 2021

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Schofield Barracks, HI – Female Soldiers across the 225th Brigade Support Battalion gathered yesterday for an intimate discussion on the unique challenges women face in today’s military.

About 60 Soldiers attended “Dragon Sisters-in-Arms” to share their personal experience, listen to guest speakers and learn about the army’s solution-driven resources. The ladies began the day with strenuous physical training and finished with a closed-door discussion about female empowerment.

“We ran the ‘gulch,’” said 1st Sgt. Yesenia Weaver-Velazquez, Bravo Company, 225th BSB’s first sergeant and lead planner for Dragon Sisters-in-Arms. “The ‘gulch’ is a hilly, strenuous route that tests your physical strength and mental fortitude.”

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“It’s the perfect analogy for any female’s career in the military,” said Weaver-Velazquez. “Careers can go up and down. Sometimes, you need to know when to push yourself. Sometimes, you need to know when to take a knee. Either way, the most important lesson they learned is that you’re not in this alone. I was inspired to see how quickly the women encouraged each other, even if they didn’t know each other.”

The event was the first of its kind since the launch of the COVID pandemic in March 2020. Soldiers donned masks and stayed socially-distant while gathering for the discussion in Schofield Barracks’ Post Chapel. The focus was to garner support and set the tone, Weaver-Velazquez said.

Soldiers shared personal stories and experiences from a variety of challenging situations including sexual harassment, sexual assault, divorce, bullying, domestic violence, and suicide ideations. Ultimately, the goal was to equip female Soldiers with the knowledge and power needed to face these difficult situations, Weaver-Velazquez said.

“A lot of us women carry the burden of what we are going through,” Weaver-Velazquez said. “We feel like there is no room for us to express it. We think, since we are Soldiers, we have to carry on and push through. We have no idea how many other Soldiers can empathize with our situation.”

“It’s all about putting people first,” Weaver-Velazquez said. “We want to better prepare and empower women to find common ground. Some females might not have females in their chain of command or in their platoon. If someone shares a story, and they relate, they can learn how other women got through it. It improves our overall wellness.”

Sgt. Maj. Lachelle Wiggins, the event’s guest speaker and the senior logistics noncommissioned officer for 18th Medical Command, shared her story and proved every rank has to overcome setbacks. Wiggins told the attendees to make goals, but it’s OK to revisit those goals for updates as you advance.

“I was a little skeptical at first, but I was moved by everyone’s stories,” said Sgt. Ashley Blais, attendee and fuel and water team leader for Alpha Company, 225th BSB. “I was skeptical because I’ve always thought it was best for females to try and be like everyone else. My Dad was a Marine and he raised me by himself. I used to think the army was a ‘man’s world.’ Yesterday’s event completely changed my perspective, a 180-degree turn.”

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“It was thoughtful knowing 1st Sgt. Weaver put this together for us,” said Sgt. Courtney Barajas, attendee and Alpha Company, 225 BSB’s armorer and retention noncommissioned officer. “Our battalion command sergeant major [Command Sgt. Maj. Amador Aguillen] made it a point to tell us that she was not instructed or tasked to host the program.”

With each having over six years of service, Barajas and Blais said yesterday’s event was the first women’s mentorship program they’ve attended. They both mentioned the event didn’t feel rushed. They had all the time they needed to learn from one another. Both agreed the program adds significant value and they look forward to future female empowering programs.

Weaver-Velazquez will lead a follow-up female empowerment program for the 225th BSB’s higher headquarter, the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team on Feb. 17, titled “Warrior Sisters-in-Arms.”