Fort Irwin’s Military Equal Opportunity Office and Operations Group, National Training Center hosted a Women’s History Month Celebration March 15, at Sandy Basin Community Center on Fort Irwin, California.
The Department of Defense’s theme for the observance this year is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories."
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeri Pihlaja, the senior enlisted advisor for Goldminer Team, Operations Group, National Training Center, served as the guest speaker for the event.
Pihlaja shared a story about being involved in the initial invasion in Iraq as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and how leadership lacked trust in her because of her gender.
“We are not here to discuss gender equality today; we’re here to talk about women’s history,” Pihlaja said in her speech. “I wanted to share a little of my story.”
Pihlaja spoke about the history and significance of the observance.
“Each March, as it was mentioned previously, the Department of Defense pays tribute to the women who, through their determination and contributions have shaped America’s history and whose efforts continue to pave the way forward,” Pihlaja said.
In her speech, Pihlaja highlighted women who have made history, to include Dr. Mary E. Walker, who has a clinic on Fort Irwin named in her honor.
“Dr. Mary Walker remains the only woman to receive a Medal of Honor,” Pihlaja said, adding that Walker served as a surgeon during the Civil War and was captured by Confederate troops.
Pihlaja referred back to her own history, telling the audience how she grew up and about her journey in the Army.
“At no time in my life could I have ever imagined that would stay in the Army past 20 years or achieve the rank of command sergeant major,” she said. “Somehow, through extremely dedicated work, I have surpassed all my expectations.”
Pihlaja said the number one thing she enjoys doing is leading and training Soldiers, which she has been doing for over 21 years as a noncommissioned officer.
Lt. Col. John Williams, the deputy commander for Operations Group, introduced Pihlaja during the event and acknowledged Pihlaja’s impact on the unit and the Army.
“Her efforts in this position have helped the readiness of our Army greatly and we are very lucky to have this kind of talent on the Operations Group team,” Williams said. “When I think of a command sergeant major, I think of a Soldier who has a vast experience in their field, a Soldier who has literally done it all, and that’s exactly what Command Sgt. Maj. Pihlaja is.”