CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Memories of influential females fill a room through stories shared by Soldiers from different units and of all ranks during a LeadHERship forum at Camp Arifjan, March 30, 2023. The influences of females throughout history derive from the stories closely held by individuals passed through generations.
In the middle of the room sits Maj. Gen. Michel M. Russell Sr., commanding general of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command, and Command Sgt. Maj. Albert E. Richardson Jr., command sergeant major of the 1st TSC. Participating in the discussion, they shared their personal stories and guidance on gratitude, perspective, and challenging the status quo.
Influences from generations of females
Starting the small group discussions, the opening question to the attendees was, "What women influenced your life?"
Russell shared four generations of females that influenced his life, "The first is my grandmother. She taught me how to smile and appreciate life and gave me my one and only hobby; I like flowers. Number two, I would say, is my mother. She never let me quit anything. Even when I wanted to," he added.
Sharing a challenging moment in his Army career, when he wanted to leave the Army, Russell attributed the third influential female in his life to his wife. He expressed to the group how stunned he was when his wife responded to his concerns with, "First of all, you'd make a horrible civilian. Second, you love what you're doing. Just get over it. You have a bad day. You're not getting out of the Army. Just suck it up, dust yourself off, and go back. You okay now?"
"So, because of her, I'm sitting here with you all," said Russell.
"The last is my granddaughter, Allison, who is a year and a half. She has shown me that there's something else waiting for me to do when I'm done here," Russell said before turning to Richardson to answer the same question.
"I would say, like most of us, was my mom. I always tell people there's no secret to being a senior leader in the military. Of course, you're going to do what you have to do, but at the end of the day, you just have to be a good human being and treat Soldiers and people right. And that's how I was brought up," said Richardson.
Attributing to the success of his military career, "My wife has been the bedrock and foundation," said Richardson. "I have three girls. The females in my life are the reason why I keep grounded."
Keep your military career in perspective
Expressing the importance of family, Richardson shared an observation he had when attending professional military education graduations.
"You will see leaders walk across the stage with no family. So, you have to keep your family intact," he explained.
Russell further emphasized that "No matter how far you go into this Army, know your family, because, at the end of the day, they are the ones that will be standing next to you in a hospital. They are the ones that will look at you as you go down into the ground. They are the ones that will understand when the rest of us will not because we're going to move on. You better know where your priorities lie, and you have to find out how to share."
In the Army Values, selfless service is defined as putting the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own. Selfless service is larger than just one person.
Richardson reminded the attendees of the cost and value of time, "You really miss a lot of time with your family, especially when you're trying to pursue a career, whether it's on the civilian side or the military; you lose a lot of time."
"You know there are sacrifices you're going to give to pursue whatever it is you want. But know what you're willing to give and know when you're giving too much," said Russell. "That's the key. It's okay to give. It's okay to sacrifice. It's who we are. It's what we do."
Challenge the status quo
To engage in a more extensive group discussion, Russell asked the female attendees, "What thoughts would go through your mind if you were reporting to see me for the first time? How do you think I would perceive you?"
In popcorn-like fashion, answers were said throughout the room.
"Are you in shape? Do you have any profiles?" said Capt. Keily Sasano, aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. Russell.
"I know a lot of women have dealt with their supervisors being worried about if they'll be able to put in enough time, or if they were planning to get pregnant, or if their family is going to trump their work schedule," said Lt. Col. Lauren Holley, 1st TSC-OCP support operations deputy.
"How are the males going to interact with you," said 1st Sgt. Farrah Burley, Alpha Company first sergeant, 1st TSC-OCP.
"If you're going to be a distraction," Holley added.
Russell asserted, "What I will tell you is to get rid of this one; forget you're a female. Don't think about that. Think about being a Soldier. Anything else that describes you other than 'I'm a Soldier first' is going to detract from who you are and how valuable you think you could be."
"You have to live your life, but you have to make sure to reduce as much friction that is put between you and your goal," Russell emphasized.
LeadHERship is a female empowerment and resiliency group that provides a platform for women serving in the military, Soldiers and Civilians, to discuss any pressing issues and provide guidance and support for the full potential of others. LeadHERship also aims to facilitate women in achieving their goals, both personal and professional, through active involvement, learning, and teamwork. The program welcomes all members regardless of race/ethnicity, religion, rank, age, sex, and sexual orientation.