FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 27, 2021) -- The only woman air defense artillery (ADA) brigade command sergeant major was the guest speaker at the Fort Sill Women’s Equality Day observance Aug. 26, at Cache Creek Chapel.
30th ADA Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Melissa Calvo spoke about the hard-earned rights of women, making the most of opportunities, and perseverance to dozens of trainees, fellow Soldiers, and post leaders.
The annual commemoration was hosted by the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general; and co-sponsored by the 30th ADA Brigade and Installation Equal Opportunity Office. This year’s theme is “The Future is All of Us. Equality is a Human Right.”
Seneca Falls Convention
The Seneca Falls (New York) Convention in 1848 was the first women’s rights convention, Calvo said. The five women who organized it were Elizabeth Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Mary M’Clintock, Martha Wright, and Jane Hunt.
The convention highlighted how women were restricted from owning land, earning wages, did not have the vote, and subjected to a different moral code than men, Calvo said.
Yet it took 72 years from this convention for women to get the right to vote in 1920, and another 55 years for all women regardless of race to have this right, the command sergeant major said.
“I think about the efforts of the five women and all of the individuals that spent countless hours toward the pursuit of equality,” Calvo said. “I am still in awe of seeing amazing women continuing to break boundaries, making history, and creating new paths.
“All of those women who paved the way for us are no different than from you or I,” Calvo said. “They had drive, they had patience, and they had resilience.
“All these accomplishments are in your reach, as well. All you have to do is pursue excellence in the path that you make for yourself,” she said.
When Calvo joined the Army in 1996, women were just recently allowed to become ADA Soldiers, she said. At her first duty station, she was told that she had to prove herself to be accepted. She wasn’t sure what that meant.
When she had to get two five-gallon oil cans to a launching station some distance away, she thought she would just carry them to prove herself, Calvo said.
As she was lugging the cans, her squad leader stopped by her in a truck and offered to drive her and the cans. She declined. “I can promise you that I did not pass up that opportunity again.
“What I figured out was that I don’t necessarily prove myself by dragging around some heavy things, or running just as fast, but by just being part of the team, trying to do the job the best I could, and asking for help when I needed it,” she said.
In 1999, when Calvo was a specialist she attended the Women’s Equality Day celebration at Fort Bliss, Texas. At the event she saw her first woman sergeant major.
“I was in awe. I just didn’t know they existed,” Calvo said. “I was too scared to say anything.” She wondered how the sergeant major got there.
The sergeant major was Dibella Pierce, who was the first woman ADA School sergeant major, and when she retired in 2004, was the first woman to retire with 30 years in the ADA branch.
When Calvo was a sergeant she was approached about becoming a drill sergeant because there were so few ADA women drill sergeants. She pursued it and became a drill sergeant.
When she learned that there had never been a woman ADA drill sergeant of the year she competed and won.
“I was so excited and all my battle-buddy drill sergeants were so proud of me,” she said. “It felt good.”
Then Calvo heard the rumor that the only reason she won was because she slept with all the competition’s board members.
“That tore all my happiness away, made me question my decisions to compete. I didn’t understand why someone would say that. I told myself: ‘I guess I do have to prove myself,’” she said. “Just like that, it was time for me to lug around those oil cans yet again.”
But her fellow Soldiers and friends had her back and Calvo said she brushed aside the rumor and drove on, with her oil cans.
Then Calvo met Pierce at a women’s observance at the Sergeants Major Academy. “I was in shock. I finally got to say hello to her,” Calvo said.
Pierce showed her a binder of newspaper articles that she had compiled about the Drill Sergeant of the Year competition that Calvo had won.
“She told me how proud she was and said now you have to keep going,” Calvo said. “And I just kept going, never passing up an opportunity as it came around.”
As opportunities arose in the Army, they came with the common question: Do you plan on getting pregnant anytime soon?, Calvo said.
“I knew that if I said yes, that it would be a deal breaker. If I wanted to keep going forward, I felt that pregnancy was not an option.”
Realizing there never was the perfect time to get pregnant, Calvo and her husband Juan Carlos Calvo had their child Ashley when Calvo was 34.
About three months later, Calvo made first sergeant. “I was lugging around my lovely oil can in one hand, and my newborn baby in the other,” she said.
When she was selected for brigade command sergeant major, it was countered with the comment that she only got it because she was woman, Calvo said. “With this I got extremely frustrated; disappointed after all this time that someone would always have something to say."
After 25 years in the Army Calvo said she came to the realization that she doesn’t have to prove herself worthy just because she is a woman.
“Just like that I put the oil cans down,” she said. “It took drive, it took patience, it took resilience. It was exhausting at times. It has made me the person that I am today.
“I could not have made it here throughout my journey without the support of others, my Soldiers’ confidence and trust in me, the peers who have always had my back, and my mentors who had confidence in my abilities, and my family, who are honestly my number one fan,” she said.
Every Soldier has a role in supporting equality throughout the ranks, Calvo said. “Ladies, your battle buddies will support you. You just need to take the challenge and keep going.
“Who knows how much longer it will take for all of us to reach our goals when it comes to equality,” she said. "But if everyone puts forth just a little bit of effort in our daily routines, supports one another in their endeavors, and upholds our Army values we will get there, but we have to do it together.”