Fort Leonard Wood community hears of challenges, victories at Women’s Equality Day event

By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs OfficeAugust 29, 2023

Staff Sgt. Ariana Sanchez instructs Sapper Leader Course students during a boat-rigging event in 2022, at Training Area 250. Now an ROTC cadet attending Columbia College, in Columbia, Missouri, as part of the Green-to-Gold commissioning program,...
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Ariana Sanchez instructs Sapper Leader Course students during a boat-rigging event in 2022, at Training Area 250. Now an ROTC cadet attending Columbia College, in Columbia, Missouri, as part of the Green-to-Gold commissioning program, Sanchez made the two-hour drive from Columbia to speak at Fort Leonard Wood’s Women’s Equality Day event Friday at Baker Theater. (Photo Credit: Photo by Amanda Sullivan, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL
The second guest speaker at Fort Leonard Wood’s Women’s Equality Day event was Madison Bowersox, an Army civilian, who works as a mechanical engineer with the Directorate of Public Works’ Engineering Design Branch. Bowersox spoke on being...
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The second guest speaker at Fort Leonard Wood’s Women’s Equality Day event was Madison Bowersox, an Army civilian, who works as a mechanical engineer with the Directorate of Public Works’ Engineering Design Branch. Bowersox spoke on being raised to think of careers, like engineering, as not appropriate for women and how the negativity she received while pursuing her choice in careers reinforced her determination to succeed and gave her the strength to persevere. (Photo Credit: Photo by Amanda Sullivan, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Fort Leonard Wood service members and civilians came together Friday afternoon in Baker Theater to celebrate the progress of women over the years, while also renewing the commitment to advance gender equality.

Each year since 1972, Aug. 26 has been designated Women’s Equality Day, a celebration of Congress’ passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, which ensures voting rights for everyone, regardless of gender, said Channa Ringo, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office here and the master of ceremonies for the event.

“The amendment changed federal law and the face of the American electorate forever,” Ringo said, while also acknowledging many women — including Asian Americans, Blacks and Native Americans — had to still fight longer to win voting rights in this country.

The theme for this year’s Women’s Equality Day is, “Continuing to make history,” and in line with that, Ringo noted many “female firsts” still occur — she spoke about an event earlier this year on Feb. 12, something that may have been overshadowed for many by the Super Bowl, she said.

“This is the day seven women from the U.S. Navy made history, when they conducted the first all-female pregame flyover,” Ringo said.

Another example Ringo pointed out was Air Force Capt. Rhea McFarland, the first Black female C-17 pilot to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross — the Air Force’s highest honor awarded for acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial operations.

“McFarland was on one of the last aircraft to depart Kabul, marking the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan,” Ringo said. “Her crew made three harrowing trips to the Afghan capital. As August 26th approaches, and we celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment, we are reminded we all have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to create a society that gives both men and women an equal voice.”

Ringo introduced Capt. Cam Kirvan, a former Sapper Training Company commander here, who spoke on one of his Sapper Leader Course instructors — someone he said he likes to call “a pioneer leader.”

Now an ROTC cadet attending Columbia College, in Columbia, Missouri, as part of the Green-to-Gold commissioning program, Ariana Sanchez was a staff sergeant, when she became the first female Sapper instructor in 2021, Kirvan said. Before that, Sanchez became a combat engineer less than a year after that military occupational specialty opened to females in 2016.

“She is someone, who is driven to seek new opportunities, overcome any challenge given to her and who can inspire a team to venture into uncharted territory,” Kirvan said of Sanchez.

In the two years they worked together, Kirvan said he continuously saw Sanchez’s name on student course critiques as one of the instructors who always stood out.

“She always stood out because of her willingness to go the extra mile to make sure the students understood the material and got the course’s full experience,” he said. “She did this while never lowering the standards for anyone, but instead, inspiring others to push themselves further than they would have otherwise.”

Sanchez, who made the two-hour drive from Columbia to speak at the event, said she is proud to take the initiative to pursue “bigger things” in the Army.

While she noted the “naysayers,” who mistook her work ethic and “internal drive to always push above and beyond” as attention seeking, Sanchez also acknowledged the “many Soldiers, who played a big role in positively influencing me without even knowing it.”

Sanchez spoke about one of those Soldiers, Staff Sgt. Jen Guzman.

“She was the highest-ranking female in the battalion, and I looked up to her, not because of her gender, but because she consistently demonstrated proficiency and a great leadership style toward her squad,” Sanchez said, adding Guzman was the person who recommended she attend Sapper School. “She told me I was meant for more than I was giving myself credit for, and to step up and be the leader the Army needed and that she knew I could be.”

In preparing for the physical rigors of the Sapper Leader Course, Sanchez also spoke of the members of her squad “doing difficult workouts alongside me.”

“I am here because of them,” she said. “Sometimes, the Army can be difficult, but when you have someone who believes in you and supports you no matter what, it makes the difficult times bearable and worth it. Always remember, there are two outcomes to choose from when facing challenges: the feeling of regret or the feeling of sacrifice. In my case in the Army, I can either sacrifice my time developing as a Soldier and a leader, no matter the outcome, or I can choose not to and regret it in the end.”

The event also featured remarks from Madison Bowersox, an Army civilian, who works as a mechanical engineer with the Directorate of Public Works’ Engineering Design Branch.

Bowersox spoke on being raised to think of careers, like engineering, as not appropriate for women — after finding out about engineering and pursuing it, Bowersox said her parents call this part of her life, “my teenage rebellion that has not ended yet.”

Out of 79 aerospace engineering undergraduates to receive diplomas in 2020, at the University of Alabama, in Huntsville, Alabama, Bowersox was one of just four women — or five percent of those graduates, she noted. In the 16 months between graduation and becoming an Army civilian here in August 2021, Bowersox faced thousands of job application rejections, and said, among other things, she faced homelessness, medical issues and, “the feeling of failing as a daughter throughout the course of my academic career.”

The negativity she received while pursuing her choice in careers reinforced her determination to succeed and gave her the strength to persevere, she said — for her, success does not lie in milestones.

“Instead, it is seeing the sparkle in every child’s eye that I have met in a bookstore, who spotted my hearing aids, finding out that I am still able to do these cool things,” she said. “It is getting to volunteer to a math or science class to show where the ‘boring stuff’ comes into use in real life, and where the future is going. It is being able to collect (science, technology, engineering and math) children’s books for when it is my turn to baby sit for a friend or when I adopt. It is seeing a project go out with my name listed as the lead designer.”

Ringo concluded the event with a mention of what are called Special Emphasis Programs. By Army Regulation 690-12, Civilian Personnel Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity, Army SEPs include:

  • the Black/African American Employment Program;
  • the American Indian and Alaska Native Employment Program;
  • the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Employment Program;
  • the Federal Women’s Program;
  • the Hispanic Employment Program;
  • the Disabled Veterans Affirmative Action Program; and
  • the Individuals with Disabilities Program.

The EEO Office would like to grow the SEPs here, Ringo said, “but we need your support and participation.”

Meetings are held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. the second Wednesday of each month at the Truman Army Education and Personnel Testing Center. Everyone is welcome and invited to attend.

Call Ringo at 573.596.0602 to learn more or get involved.