VICENZA, Italy – In 2016, when Erica Lynch tossed her white cap into the air during graduation at West Point’s Michie Stadium, she never expected that as a commissioned officer she would face gender bias in the workplace.
Seven years later, as an Army captain serving 207th Military Intelligence Brigade (Theater), Lynch wants other female Soldiers to learn ways to navigate the obstacles she has faced.
“Women face unique challenges in the military,” said Lynch. “It's extremely important for women to feel the sense of support, understanding and the ability to be heard.”
That’s why Lynch and two other Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Savanah Barnes and Sgt. Luisa Nunez, created “Titan Valkyrie” — the brigade’s first female mentorship program.
“I've never really had a female mentor,” Lynch said. “That's the driving force for me taking this group on, creating the group that I wish I had and sharing techniques and strategies to understand what women go through and how to get through.”
Titan is the moniker of the 307th Military Intelligence Battalion, where the group first began. Valkyries are Norse spirits who escort fallen comrades to Valhalla. Female Soldiers can take part every first Friday of the month. Lynch sends out readings ahead of time for the group to discuss. Sgt. Emily Nelson took part in the lunchtime discussion recently at U.S. Army Garrison Italy’s Italian cafeteria, known as the Mensa.
“I've had mentors in my military career,” Nelson said. “Having a place to be with women who have had shared or similar experiences is refreshing.”
In honor of Women’s History Month, the group opened their March meeting to other female Soldiers in the Vicenza Military Community. Soldiers from Southern European Task Force- Africa and paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
They discussed this month’s topic— the challenges of dual military and being pregnant while serving in the Army. Lynch who is pregnant with her first child moderated the discussion. Some were not married nor had been pregnant, yet the discussion enabled them to learn approaches to navigating challenges women often face at work.
Command Sgt. Major Chalawnda Kelly, SETAF-AF’s senior enlisted leader in the inspector general’s office, took part. She found herself surprised by the information and strategies they discussed.
“I attended an event similar to this five years ago,” said Kelly, recalling her previous experience as mostly complaints and not solutions. “But, this group is awesome.”
Kelly, offering final remarks, reminded the women that the Army has set a standard for other people to follow. The Army tackled segregation, gender and homosexuality in ways that also changed American society, she said.
“The U.S. Army is a change agent,” Kelly said. “Just like with the civil rights movement and gay rights, the Army is going to take on female equality and we're going to win.”