FORT LEE, Va. – In 2019, Col. Clydea Prichard-Brown – one of few female senior staff officers at the Sustainment Center of Excellence – was hit with multiple requests to mentor junior female Soldiers, and she eagerly obliged.
“It was ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes’ every time,” said the vivacious Indiana native, who was heading up CASCOM’s Logistics and Materiel Readiness Directorate back then.
Prichard-Brown’s heart, however, was much bigger than the spaces on her calendar.
“There wasn’t enough time in the week or month to mentor everyone and then try to do my job (as a director),” conceded the colonel who has since become the 59th Ordnance Brigade commander.
Not willing to give up on fulfilling the need, Prichard-Brown pivoted. She could scale her mentorship efforts by building an organization – one providing Soldiers professional development opportunities and a place “to fall softly” – that simultaneously could use its collective power to address wide-ranges of issues affecting women in uniform. The realization gave birth to the idea that eventually became the Female Mentoring and Morale Program.
“We ended up coming together for our first meeting (of 13 participants),” recalled Prichard-Brown of the 2019 informal gathering that drew a diverse group of officers and enlisted Soldiers. “The next time we got together, it was 45 (attending). At the third meeting, it was 72 people. It had spread through word-of-mouth.”
While the numbers seemed promising, there were worries about the ability to sustain itself as a fully functional organization. Prichard-Brown was particularly concerned how the departure of founding or influential figures would affect the group moving forward. Upon examination, she came up with a solution.
“Here’s the prospective problem,” assessed Prichard-Brown. “As soon as I moved to brigade commander, and if there were no cells remaining, it’s going to die. My mission was to make it an enduring program by (getting the command involved).”
CASCOM military personnel – and not volunteers – would essentially assume responsibilities for operations, filling key positions. That meant it would not be a non-profit like The Rocks, Inc., a well-known minority-focused professional development organization. It would be more akin – operationally and structurally – to Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, an Army-funded entity supporting quality life issues for enlisted Soldiers.
All told, Prichard-Brown realized it would not be an easy sell to the CASCOM leadership. The Army’s sustainment and doctrine entity was swamped with its own challenges, and she needed to convince leaders an advocacy organization could indeed contribute to mission accomplishment.
“We needed to show them (the value); that it’s unapologetically committed to talking through those issues affecting female Soldiers and that we’re contributors to the mission as a whole,” Prichard-Brown said.
It did not hurt the Me Too movement was in full extension, bolstering FMMP’s chances. The international social phenomena brought to light sexual misconduct as a complex, multi-layered problem, garnering widespread public support for victims and policy reform.
Me Too also brought clarity to how FMMP could support the Army’s People First Initiative – its strategy for combatting toxic behaviors – and its longstanding goals of creating climates in which all Soldiers feel safe, valued and protected, Prichard-Brown observed. She told the story of a junior officer confiding in her following a 2019 FMMP meeting. The Soldier alleged multiple episodes of harassment, how she was put on edge and how she was paralyzed to seek help. An investigation was initiated, eventually leading to relief for the victim.
“When the general found out, it was like he understood, ‘Somebody has to have a place where they can fall softly and say, ‘I’m hurting’ and ‘Here’s what’s happening …,’” Prichard-Brown shared. “It’s not always about the ‘woe is us’ and the amount of pain we’re experiencing, but ‘How can I be a better officer who happens to be female and not be judged for being one?’”
To Prichard-Brown’s point, FMMP is not an organization solely focused on female Soldiers or combatting toxic behaviors. It “provides mentorship, personal and professional development, and fellowship” to commissioned, warrant offices and NCOs Army-wide “with a focus on strengthening the military female population through coaching, mentoring and networking sessions and engagement,” according to its mission statement.
Prichard-Brown strongly emphasized the organization’s gender inclusivity. “This was originally a female program,” she said. “That’s who initially asked for mentorship, however, we can talk to each other all day long; we can ‘woe is us’ and preach to the choir, but we need our male counterparts to support us because guess who is still making decisions in the Army?”
Lt. Col. Odessa Katumu Sam-Kpakra, also a CASCOM staff officer and one who initially requested mentorship, assisted Prichard-Brown in fleshing out the FMMP idea. In early 2020, they had refined the organizational concept to satisfaction, ready to take the next step toward fruition.
Maj. Gen. Rodney D. Fogg, then CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, received the FMMP presentation in March 2020. The general – a father of three daughters – was particularly impressed that the organization’s lines of effort were nested under the command and its higher headquarters, the Training and Doctrine Command, and the Army, according to Prichard-Brown.
“We said, ‘Look, it’s a value to the Army,’ but it is more of a value to CASCOM,” she recalled, pointing out the high numbers of females in the Army’s sustainment arena.
Fogg approved FMMP shortly after the initial presentation. The COVID-19 pandemic – with its ensuing lockdown and restrictions – began soon after. Unfortunately, it put the organization at risk of dissolving.
“We thought we were done because of COVID,” Prichard-Brown said. “I was like, ‘I have all these ladies who want to have something, but we can’t meet in person anymore.’”
Technology – namely video teleconferences – allowed for the group’s continuation through the pandemic. In fact, FMMP flourished because of it, attracting high-profile speakers covering a multitude of topics. Among them were retired lieutenant generals Gwen Bingham and Kathleen Gainey, the former Quartermaster General and U.S. Transportation Command deputy commander, respectively. The two eventually became the organization’s first retired senior advisors.
Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, the Army Provost Marshal General in 2020 and one of Prichard-Brown’s mentors, also spoke during a recent teleconference, as did dozens of other prominent active and retired Soldiers. Martin, now a lieutenant general and the Army Inspector General, is FMMP’s first active duty senior advisor.
Martin, Bingham, Gainey and Lt. Gen. Gary M. Brito, Deputy Chief of Staff, G1, comprise the retired and active general officers on the organization’s executive board. It is rounded out by Prichard-Brown, founder/director; Maj. Maribel Lee, CASCOM chapter chairperson; Lt. Col. Clydellia Prichard-Allen and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Yolondria Dixon-Carter, Pentagon Executive Team; Capt. Chalonda Estelle, deputy chairperson; Capt. Sylvia Scott, social media chair; Capt. Ciara Copper-Thomas, treasurer; and Capt. Mary Tang, social secretary.
In addition to its executive board, FMMP is supported by a long list of female and male retired and active duty officers, enlisted Soldiers and warrant officers totaling more than 600. Furthermore, it has expanded to include 23 chapters at installations around the world.
FMMP’s goal is to emerge from the pandemic with forums, workshops and one-on-one mentoring sessions for participants, said Prichard-Brown. It also seeks to earn sanction at the U.S. Army and Department of Defense levels.
FMMP meets on the fourth Thursday of each month at Fort Lee. For more information, contact Estelle at 804-765-8241 or visit www.facebook.com/FMMP2.