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SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii – Hawaii Congresswoman and Hawaii Army National Guard Major, Tulsi Gabbard, spoke to U.S. Army Soldiers at 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s women’s mentorship program, April 8.

Gabbard shared her experience overcoming challenges pursuing two male-dominated professions to a socially-distant audience attending the female focused program titled “Sisters-in-Arms.”

“Stop thinking of yourself as just a woman,” advised Gabbard. “I didn’t want to be the best female at my basic training, I just wanted to be the best, do my best. Period. Full stop. I wasn’t thinking within the context of ‘what do I do as a female, how do I do this.’ Strive for excellence, everyday, in everything that you do.”

“When you choose that hard right over the easy wrong, when you focus on maintaining your integrity and focus on your purpose and your service, you can’t go wrong,” Gabbard said.

Beginning at a young age, Gabbard said she took the values instilled by her parents to heart, to pursue a life of servant leadership.

“When you’re coming from a mindset of being a servant leader you can work in business, in politics, in the military, in medicine. You can work in just about any field, in any profession, and be guaranteed the greatest success of happiness and fulfillment when you are doing your best to be of service,” Gabbard said.

Gabbard gave Soldiers anecdotes from her past about how motivation, determination, and self-courage can create positive change. Instead of cleaning up beaches, she co-founded an environmental nonprofit organization. Instead of writing complaints to political representatives, she mustered the courage to travel door-to-door to meet constituents as she ran for office at 21 years of age.

Gabbard reflected on her U.S Army initial entry training. She spoke of a memorable female drill sergeant who pulled all of the female Soldiers in her basic training company aside and gave them “the talk.” The drill sergeant taught them to be professional, strive to achieve a higher standard and avoid things like standing in a modified version of ‘parade rest,’ unaffectionately referred to as ‘parade pretty.’

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“Her point was about not playing into certain perceptions that exist for women. Whether it’s in the military or politics, there are perceptions or misperceptions that exist that have nothing to do with you,” Gabbard said. “When you walk into a room there are preconceived notions of who you are that are based on someone you’ll never know and the way they were…good or bad…and you have no control over that.”

“But, what’s the one thing you can control? Yourself. How you act. How you carry yourself. Your professionalism. Not the standards someone else sets for you. The standards that you set for yourself. So, we can whine and complain all day and all night about how things aren’t fair. But, I ask you, what are you going to do about it?” Gabbard asked.

After her presentation, Gabbard answered questions about leadership challenges, work/life balance, and professional development. One Soldier referenced April as the military sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention awareness month and asked her opinion on how the army can prevent sexual assault and harassment incidents.

“The issue of sexual assault and harassment is obviously not unique to the military…it’s unfortunately something that exists across our society. So, it’s important to look at the deeper issue. I’ve had a chance to spend some time with survivors of sexual assault and rape both in the military and the civilian world. Both men and women,” Gabbard said.

“Too often, this issue is relegated to “this is a female issue.” It’s not. It’s a people issue. It ultimately stems from a lack of respect. When you look at the culture we need to create in the military, in the halls of Congress, and in our society, it’s one of respect. It’s one that recognizes the destructive nature of objectification, of seeing other humans as objects to exploit, rather than as people, regardless of our background or rank, who deserve our respect,” Gabbard said.

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Following the group discussion, Gabbard stayed behind for photos and to give Soldiers an opportunity to speak with her one-on-one.

Sisters-in-Arms, a People First initiative, will continue to meet monthly to provide female Soldiers an environment to share stories and challenges unique to females serving in the U.S. Army.