FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Images of influential leaders and athletes, such as Martin Luther King Jr., and Olympic Gold Medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, lined Nutter Field House Friday alongside informative displays highlighting America’s diverse culture. Throughout the room, Fort Leonard Wood Soldiers and civilians discussed Army history.
Less than half-a-mile away, service members participated in the Strength in Diversity weightlifting challenge at Swift Gym.
The two events were part of Army Heritage Month. Implemented under the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program in 2020, the month provides an opportunity for Army leaders to highlight the history and culture of the branch in the weeks surrounding the Army Birthday, June 14.
“The goal of these events is to foster a culture of equity and inclusion, heritage awareness, history and understanding,” said Master Sgt. Steve Holcomb, senior equal opportunity advisor for the Equal Opportunity Office. “We wanted to promote the Army Values, and recognize the achievements and contributions of Army organizations, while enhancing a sense of inclusion and unit cohesiveness among diverse attendees.”
Exhibition attendees learned about available resources from staff with Army Community Service, the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention Program, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Defense Commissary Agency and the Army Substance Abuse Program, who brought a simulated impaired driving experience, or SIDNE — a go-kart that simulates impaired driving.
Historians from the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex and archaeologists with the Directorate of Public Work’s Natural Resources Branch were on hand to educate visitors about the Army and Fort Leonard Wood’s history, while the 399th Army Band provided entertainment and local vendors provided food.
According to Holcomb, who organized the exhibition, bringing awareness and interaction — and not just recognition of the Army and its civilians — preserves the memories and honors the service of Soldiers, civilians and their families, while educating the public about the contributions the Army and Army families make to the nation.
For 1st Sgt. Rosa Morales, the event was another chance to instill Army pride in the trainees of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment — something she said they try to teach throughout Basic Combat Training.
“Programs like this are so valuable, because instilling that pride early is important,” she said. “This is a great way to reinforce that idea.”
Army diversity is something Morales said she is familiar with.
“As a Hispanic female, in the highest enlisted position at the company level, I am a prime example of diversity in the Army,” she said. “I’m proof (to the trainees) there is no barrier, and you can reach your full potential in any position, no matter who you are or where you came from.”
Staff Sgt. Robert Prieto, a senior drill sergeant with Company E, 701st Military Police Battalion, brought his wife, Jordan, and two children to the exhibition. He said the history told through the displays of diverse, historic leaders, athletes and people was a highlight.
“Diversity is the way of the future, and key to ensuring everyone is treated fairly and equally,” he said. “There’s a lot of history in there — and history is important to know about and understand, so it doesn’t repeat itself.”
At Swift Gym, competitors lined up to perform bench press, dead lift and squats during the weightlifting challenge, where the total weight lifted in each event was combined to determine if the participants made it to the 500- or 1000-pound club. The event was a new addition to the observance this year and was inspired by a literal interpretation of the phrase “strength in diversity,” according to Master Sgt. Daniel Micek, 14th Military Police Brigade equal opportunity advisor.
Micek said the purpose was to bring a diverse group of people together for a common goal, and the short distance between the two events was intentional.
“The close proximity allowed people to check out both venues, cheer on the participants and learn about Army heritage and Fort Leonard Wood history,” Micek said. “We feel that hosting the weightlifting event in conjunction with the community exhibition at Nutter Field House demonstrates the overall intent of fostering a culture of equity and inclusion, while enhancing heritage awareness and understanding.”
One competitor who made it to the 500-pound club was Staff Sgt. Cherise Clark, NCO in charge of current operations for the 554th Engineer Battalion. Clark said she enjoyed the opportunity to compete in such a fun and relaxed environment.
“I love seeing females be a part of the overall teambuilding,” she said. “This competition allows females to step out and be recognized for the things they can do.”
Micek said he hoped the challenge would bring a focus on diversity by building comradery and encouraging conversations between those competing and members of the community.
Clark said she feels like that mission was accomplished.
“I saw a lot of civilians and military personnel come together as one team for this competition,” she said. “I hope this allowed others to see how powerful we can be when we come together.”