FORT POLK, La. — March is Women’s History Month — a celebration of the efforts made, challenges overcome and accomplishments achieved by women throughout history and today. Those achievements can be found in career fields, sports, politics, law and even the very perception of what women can do instead of what they can’t.
A prime example of this progress can be found at the Fort Polk Office of the Staff Judge Advocate where the current Staff Judge Advocate is Col. Tiffany Chapman, only the second female to hold the post at Fort Polk — the first was Brig. Gen. (retired) Melinda Dunn, and Fort Polk’s two female observer/coach trainers, Maj. Kathy Denehy, senior operational law Observer, Coach/Trainer, and Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Slaughterbeck, OC/T paralegal noncommissioned officer in charge, the first female JAG OC/T leadership team.
Chapman said Fort Polk’s JAG Corps provides principle counsel to the clients of a globally responsive force.
“In addition to being subject matter experts in the legal realm, we must also serve as trusted staff members, advisors and leaders and guide our legal teams to do that as well. That’s why I think it’s important that we are promoting diversity at all levels. Not only can we relate to a more diverse customer base, it also helps us incorporate different perspectives and viewpoints while building knowledge and expertise,” she said.
Chapman said her part in that diversity means leading the legal team on the installation while helping the commanding general pursue his initiatives and priorities.
“It’s a multifaceted practice, but my focus is leading an effective team while providing legal advice and solving problems,” she said.
Chapman said Denehy and Slaughterbeck contribute to JAG’s diversity. Denehy is the first female to lead Fort Polk’s OC/T team.
“They interact with every unit that trains at JRTC and Fort Polk to maintain readiness in pursuit of the Army’s mission,” Chapman said.
As OC/Ts, Denehy and Slaughterbeck said they work with legal teams that come with brigades training at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk.
Six months before a legal team ever reaches Fort Polk, Denehy said they are in touch to begin preparing them for their rotation.
“What legal teams do in combat is very different than what they do in garrison,” she said.
Topics legal teams can potentially advise their command about during rotation include scenarios such as whether a bridge can be blown up or legal obligations to prisoners of war.
Training the rotational brigade’s lawyers can be challenging, said Slaughterbeck. That’s one of the reasons she said it’s rare to see female OC/Ts.
Denehy said she thinks another reason is because, historically, any combat based position went to men.
“Before combat positions were open to females, males went into those positions because we associated them with fighting and combat. As that has changed, more opportunities have opened up for women to fill positions that were traditionally held by males,” she said.
Denehy said she sometimes feels frustrated that there is still an attitude of surprise that women can do some of the same jobs men do.
“There are areas in the military that people still see as traditionally male. I think that’s why it’s important for women to be seen in leadership positions like ours. If they see us, they might think they can do it too,” she said.
Slaughterbeck said Women’s History Month, to her, is an acknowledgment of how far women have come while realizing how far they still have to go.
Denehy said even women who have grown up in today’s world still feel the limitations placed on them.
“It’s important to show young women what’s available to them and help them realize that those opportunities weren’t always there,” she said. “It’s not something that we should take for granted.”
Slaughterbeck said she admires women like her mother who helped pave the way for her success.
“Seeing her strength as she met the challenges of raising three children as a single mother inspired me,” she said. “I know I’m capable of doing anything I set my mind to.”
Slaughterbeck said watching the females that came before her gives her the strength to continue to pave the way for young women following her lead.
Denehy said in the military, there are many women who have broken the glass ceiling long before she came along, but it can still be difficult.
“In my time in the Army, I’ve been told ‘that’s a job we’re going to let the guys do.’ That kind of attitude still exists. It’s important to let young female Soldiers know they may encounter this kind of mentality, but that doesn’t have to stop them as we keep making that hole in the ceiling bigger,” she said.
Chapman said women set an example of what’s possible.
“Whenever you have a first, it establishes the fact that something is possible and makes the path easier for successors to come along and do the same. Not only does it shape the viewpoints of the people in an organization, but it shapes the perspective of all those who are following as well,” she said.
Denehy said she hopes her efforts make it easier for other women.
“There are no limits or jobs that only ‘men’ can do,” she said. “If there is something you want to do, don’t be afraid to go for it.”
As women continue to achieve their goals, Chapman said those firsts will soon cease to be exceptional and become the norm.
As for the future of women in the military, Slaughterbeck said she hopes women continue to take on challenging jobs.
“Progress has been made and there is reason to be optimistic when it comes to changing mindsets,” she said.
Chapman said she supports the recognition of all aspects of the military — every demographic. Women’s history is part of that diversity.
“That diversity is a force multiplier that we can celebrate and recognize. It enhances our readiness and ability to understand and interact with each other,” she said.