JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (August 26, 2023) Women's Equality Day, the annual celebration of women's right to vote, is also a day to recognize the many contributions women have made in our Armed Forces. Women have been serving in the military for over a century, but it wasn't until 1948 that women were officially recognized as a permanent part of the U.S. Army. Since then, women have made significant contributions to the Army's mission, serving in a wide variety of roles both on and off the battlefield.
Women in the U.S. military have spent the last century breaking down gender norms within our formations, making massive strides across the Army. Now the women of the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) are setting conditions for women to challenge the traditional notions of gender roles and paving the way for greater gender equality in the security sector.
In 2019, the U.S. government released the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) strategy with three lines of effort aimed at promoting gender equality and women's empowerment globally. The 5th SFAB has taken an essential step in advancing this strategy by assigning female Advisors to nearly every position across its formation. This move is significant and timely as it aims to promote women's participation in peacekeeping and security, a space where men (generally) occupy most decision-making roles.
One female Advisor making WPS headways in the Indo-Pacific is Capt. Amanda Veen, the commander of the Military Intelligence Company employed forward in the Indo-Pacific. Upon completion of her first company command job, she knew she didn’t want to follow the typical staff officer path.
“I was really drawn to the mission set, the first thing I learned about the SFAB was the reason that the beret is brown is we are always in the dirt working shoulder to shoulder with our partners,” states Veen. “We don’t just train to build readiness, we also train to build partnerships in the Pacific which is arguably the U.S. military’s most consequential theater.”
Capt. Veen and many women who join SFABs don’t necessarily realize the strategic advancements they are making to the national level of Women, Peace, and Security policy; however, they are aware of the impact their presence makes on our partner and ally armed forces at the tactical level.
Veen, along with women from the 1st Special Forces Group, were asked by the Royal Thai Army to be mentors for the first-ever all-female airborne school class. “It was truly inspiring,” Veen expresses, “there were 96 women who completed the course, and it was really a unique experience to be a part of an initiative to expand opportunities for women in another country.”
These types of events, and the potential impact they can make at the lowest echelons of our partner militaries, is exactly what the 2019 WPS strategy hopes to achieve. Its first line of effort calls on U.S. government agencies to “tailor their engagements and programs in ways that help women around the world be more prepared for, and able to participate in, decision-making processes related to conflict and crisis.” Increasing the number of airborne qualified women in the Royal Thai Army advances those equality efforts.
Serving as a mentor and role model to local women and through partner force training is inherent to the role of a female Advisor.
Sgt. Caley Hodge, a military intelligence Advisor who was forward employed with the 5th SFAB on their first rotation into the Indo-Pacific, talks about her time employed and the impact that it had on her. “As I reflected on my time forward, I realized I was just this kid from Carter County, Tennessee, in the Army, the only female on my team, in the middle of the Indo-Pacific and getting to train a partner military… just wow.”
Hodge explains that the women she trained were often in awe of the opportunities she had in the U.S. Army. “Those women would often ask me if I got to do everything that the men in my formation got to do,” explains Hodge, “and when I would tell them yes, they would just stare in disbelief or express their desire for the same opportunities.”
Lt. Col. Dustin Blair, commander of the 6th Battalion, 5th SFAB, and the commander for the current Force Package 23-2 currently forward in the Indo-Pacific, shares his firsthand account of the difference that Advisors like Veen and Hodge make when working with our foreign military partners.
“Our female Advisors are often able to build rapport during instances where the partner force has been more apprehensive at socializing,” Blair explains. “They provide a different perspective not only to our partners but also to other members of our Advisor teams. Quite simply our female Advisors serve as role models to the partner force and demonstrate the benefit of empowering and developing all our subordinates.”
Today, as we remember the struggles of American women to earn their right to vote and honor those who keep it still, let us also reflect on the women of the U.S. Army who are making a global difference.
Organizations like the 5th SFAB are advancing the U.S. Strategy on Women, Peace, and Security by relying on women in the security sector. In this way, the SFAB enterprise is a worldwide model for advancing gender equality across the globe.