PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. (March 16, 2023) – In honor of Women’s History Month, Presidio of Monterey public affairs shares the stories of three women serving the Monterey military community who epitomize resiliency, strength and commitment to our nation. These women bring nearly a century’s worth of collective experience within the military community and positively impact the lives of service members and families each day.
Over the years, they have observed countless changes for women in the military community while serving as active-duty service members, volunteers, spouses, mothers, military children, civilian employees and leaders. Their achievements and contributions significantly benefit our nation through the positive impact these women have in the communities they live in. Here is the story of Stephanie Schafer, edited for length and clarity.
1) What is your history serving and working around the military community?
I graduated high school in 1978 and two weeks later I was in basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, on my way to becoming military police. At the end of that enlistment, I served the whole in Germany, I joined the National Guard. I served as a noncommissioned officer until took a break in service for family reasons. After my break in service, I reenlisted, but in the Navy Reserves. I gave up rank to do it. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but this is advice I would give to any service member: Don’t give up stripes for anything! I did, and it took a few years to earn them back. I did get to go to the Navy intelligence schools and that was very interesting. But the Navy wasn’t really for me, so when I graduated, I got a branch transfer back into the National Guard. I worked in Army Intelligence the rest of my career, mostly on various active-duty orders or deployments, and occasionally just being a regular Guard Soldier.
2) When did you first begin serving or working with the military community and how are you serving today?
I originally enlisted in 1978, but I started as an Army civilian in 2014 while I was still serving in the National Guard—a lot of Guard Soldiers do both. I spent 2005-2014 doing what’s called “order hopping.” So, that’s when you spend most of your time on various sets of orders. While order hopping, I’ve done counter drug work, various deployments, and even went to language school twice. That’s how I ended up here. I had been at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center as an Arabic student. As I got close to graduation, my first sergeant asked if I would like to become a platoon sergeant. I thought DLI without homework! What’s not to like? Of course I said yes, and I ended up doing that for two years.
At the end of that two years, I was offered an opportunity to build the Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program for DLI because that needed to be stood up. After I had built the SHARP program, the Garrison approached me and offered me the opportunity to build a Garrison SHARP program when I got off orders. I saw the opportunity for steady employment and not having to worry about lining up orders to make sure I have a job. In October of 2014 I became a Department of the Army civilian. My first DA civilian role was serving as the Garrison SARC. Now I serve as the Workforce Development Program Analyst within the Directorate of Human Resources. I help guide workforce training developments and help employees access the larger organizational training opportunities that exist. I also manage the awards program and organize the quarterly garrison awards ceremonies. It’s rewarding because I get to help people move forward in their careers in one capacity or another.
3) What do you find most rewarding about serving the military community?
This is where my patriotism really comes out. I joined the Army as a baby—and that really colored my world view and how I feel about my country, military service, and the importance of having a strong functional military. I loved serving my country, having those battle buddies, and all the opportunities you get for leadership at such an early age. There’s so much opportunity for growth— and the military has grown so much from the standpoint of how it takes care of its Soldiers and the services that are available. I just really like being a part of something that matters so much.
Personally, a career in the military has afforded me a great opportunity to see the world. I’ve spent time in Germany, Afghanistan, Jordan, Crete, Morocco, China, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, afloat off the Asian Coasts, and time aboard a Tunisian Ship in the Mediterranean. I’ve worked with the Marines, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, National Security Agency, Department of Homeland Defense, and national counter-drug operations. I’ve also spent time training various Middle Eastern and North African militaries. Where else can you get that kind of life experience?
4) Throughout your career working with the military community, what types of changes have you seen for women? What has changed most?
When I first joined the military, allowing women into the Military Police Corps was brand new. I don’t know if we were the first—but we were one of the first to be in joint male and female basic training together. It was … not real great. There was a lot of sexual harassment at that time. When we get to our units, the established MP units aren’t used to having women around and a lot of guys did not want us there. You’d show up to your unit and there were a lot of assumptions about you just because you’re a woman. We had to work our butts off and perform better than everyone to overcome those preconceived notions, just to be accepted as a Soldier. As a woman you really had to work so hard to get that respect.
Sexual harassment policy has improved significantly since then. For a long time, there wasn’t anything about sexual harassment. Then there was Prevention of Sexual Harassment, or POSH, which was pretty weak. Now, there is the SHARP program, and even the policy in that program has come a long way from when it stated.
The uniforms have changed significantly. When I first joined, the women’s uniform was so bad! We were still wearing the "pickle" suits back then. We went from a special women’s uniform that was just terrible with buttons up the side and material that ripped easily. The boots had no tread and were pointy and awful. As we were getting done with Advanced Individual Training, we were allowed to wear the men’s uniforms which were more durable and comfortable and the men’s boots were wider and had tread. We changed over as fast as we could. And finally, in recent years, uniforms specifically designed toward women have been made available.
The opportunities for women have become so much better over the years. I see a lot more inclusivity among service members now than when I first started out. It was such a fight to have women MPs and now we have women Rangers. That’s a long way!
5) You have a wealth of experience working as a woman in the military community, and you are a leader. What advice can you offer to other aspiring female leaders in the military community?
Don’t be afraid to own your space. You have a right to be here. You have a voice. Use it. There are going to be people who don’t want to hear what you have to say. That’s going to happen to everyone, regardless of gender, so don’t immediately assume it’s about gender. Don’t look for reasons to be offended. You will be offended sometimes. Don’t waste your time being upset about it. Get up and keep moving forward.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you aren’t getting the answers you’re looking for, ask elsewhere. Don’t stand back waiting for someone to give you the things you want. Go get it!