The power of a hat


I have been slammed busy these past few weeks. As an Army Reserve Soldier, I have to balance my life between the civilian world and the Army. But even then, my civilian job is with the active Army. So my two roles are really very the same: taking pictures, writing stories, and managing communications of Soldiers. As a Reserve Soldier, my “client” is an Army Reserve Division. As an Army civilian, my “client” is a unique Army unit. So, I do the same things for both units, I just get to wear cuter clothes when in my civilian role.

This past few weeks, I was on a Reserve mission and started working on some stories. As it was Women’s History Month, I wanted to write an article on that. I had just gone to a drill sergeant graduation for my Reserve unit and had an access of great information and quotes, but I didn’t know where to start on a Women’s History Piece. So what does any good Soldier do? They call their command sergeant major for help.

I contacted my former leader and current mentor to get some historical perspective on female drill sergeants. I am sure I subconsciously remembered that she was a drill sergeant, but at the time, I just needed a perspective from a female Soldier. Of course, my mentor was there for me and she delivered more than just some information. She delivered me the focus of my story. Not only because she is just a wonderful mentor and Soldier, but she herself was a drill sergeant too. And not only that, she was a drill sergeant who was taught by some of the very people I was wanting to talk about in my article.

I love it when things just come together.

Anyway, here is the story (or below) and just one of the reasons why my blog here has been a bit quiet…

 

Female Drill Sergeant Hat Changes Army, Lives

By Maj. Michelle Lunato | 98th Training Division -Initial Entry Training | March 20, 2017

 

The drill sergeant hat is an icon in the Army that creates vivid images. When people see a Soldier wearing it, they immediately feel respect because they know it is a job that is earned, not given.

The hat that comes to mind for most, is the male drill sergeant hat, the brown round. However, the female drill sergeant hat holds just as much responsibility. It just hasn’t been around as long, or as much, but it certainly has history.

In February 1972, six Women’s Army Corps noncommissioned officers from Fort McClellan, Ala., enrolled in the Drill Sergeant Program at Fort Jackson, S.C. Upon graduation, they were authorized to wear the newly designed female drill sergeant hat that was designed by Brig. Gen. Mildred C. Bailey.

“Those six women and that hat transformed the entire Army…and my life,” said Command Sgt. Maj. (Retired) Jennifer Dehorty, cemetery director intern, National Cemetery Administration, Veterans Affairs.
Dehorty’s statement is not exaggeration. It’s merely a fact of her own experiences as a trainee at Fort McClellan in 1981.

“All the cadre we had there were former WAC drill sergeants,” said Dehorty. “The esprit-de-corps that we learned from them was different. It was stronger….We even carried ourselves different than the trainees from other posts.”

Dehorty was so inspired by her drill sergeants, that she became one herself in 1984. But like a true Soldier trained by some of the Army’s first female drill sergeants, Dehorty pushed hard to do her best. And in doing so, she earned The Distinguished Honor Graduate title over her peers.

Looking back, Dehorty said she wasn’t trying to exceed the standards. She just wanted to meet them.

“In the day, those women not only set the standard, they WERE the standard. And I couldn’t think of being anything better.”

A little over 45 years have passed and those first female drill sergeants are still remembered for their bravery, said Staff Sgt. Briana Popp, an Army Reservist with 3-518th, 2nd Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), who just graduated as The Distinguished Honor Graduate and Iron Female from The Drill Sergeant Academy March 8, 2017.

“They stared in the face of adversity and never backed down,” said Popp. The personal courage those first six drill sergeants put forth, paved the way for not only female drill sergeants, but just female Soldiers in general, said Popp.

Years have gone by since the Army’s first female drill sergeants, and progress is still being made. In 2009, Command Sgt. Maj. Teresa L. King became the first female commandant of The Drill Sergeant Academy. In 2015, Capt. Kristen Griest, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver and Maj. Lisa Jaster all became the first female Army Rangers. In 2017, Pvt. Jennifer Sandoval became one the first two females to earn the combat engineer military occupational specialty.

With more and more women paving the way and others joining the Army, female drill sergeants will play a vital role in tomorrow’s Army.
“Being a drill sergeant is the most important job in the Army, hands down,” said Staff Sgt. Briana Kozain, drill sergeant leader at The Drill Sergeant Academy. “From the moment that civilian enters my world, I have the ability to plant a seed to change their entire life.”

Like Dehorty and Popp, Sgt. Earlandrius C. Parker, a Canton, Ohio resident and a drill sergeant with the 108th Training Command (IET), became a drill sergeant as a result of her experience with her drill sergeant.

“She inspired me and had such an impact on me that it was my mission, once I became a noncommissioned officer, to do all the things I needed to do to get to where I am today and become a drill sergeant,” said Parker who graduated with Popp from The Drill Sergeant Academy March 8, 2017.

Of course, becoming a drill sergeant is not an easy task. It just takes hard work, dedication and training. But it’s not impossible, said Parker.
“It is obtainable. You can do it,” said Parker who invited the drill sergeant who changed her life to her graduation.

Many female Soldiers have the ability to become a drill sergeant, they just need to believe they can, said Staff Sgt. Crystal L. Doherty, a combat medic who earned her drill sergeant title along with Popp and Parker and will be going on the trail at Fort Benning, Ga.

“Never let anyone tell you that you are not good enough. Always strive to be stronger than the next person. And, just keep pushing forward. There are no limits.”

With each new trail blazer, the Army gets better and more diverse. Many female drill sergeants said it is not about being female. It is about being their best and serving the uniform with pride. However, the best explanation about being a female drill sergeant came from the highest ranking female drill sergeant there is to date during a 2009 interview the New York Times.

“When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a female,” said King. “I see a Soldier.”

~~~

For noncommissioned officers interested in taking on the challenging and rewarding role of U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeant, please contact Sgt. 1st Class Dorothy Sherrin at Dorothy.e.sherrin.mil@mail.mil or 704-475-2307 (cell) or 706-626-0443 (office).

The 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) has units in: Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Connecticut, California, and Puerto Rico.

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Been busy…


I’ve been a bit silent on my blog lately, but it doesn’t mean I have not been busy. (Actually, I’ve been missing my blog and blogging friends!)

Here is one of the many things I’ve been working on…

Story and photos by Maj. Michelle Lunato 

98th Training Division -Initial Entry Training

Retired Veteran Helps Others Find Peace Through Horses

Life can be full of stress that is unavoidable. From the irritation of dealing with road-raging drivers to the anxiety of coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, it can be a lot to handle.

Of course, stress and PTSD are not always limited to veterans alone. Many family members and civilians can have similar weight on their shoulders. Regardless of the size of the shoulders, sometimes, the weight can just be too much.

But in these situations, people just need a horse to save the day, according to Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Sam Rhodes, owner of Warrior Outreach in Fortson, Ga. After serving 30 consecutive months deployed to Iraq in 2003, Rhodes found it hard to readjust to life back home. He suffered in silence from the impacts of war because he feared the stigma associated with asking for help.

“I was kind of embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know I had challenges. So I kind of handled it on my own,” said Rhodes who serves as the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program Manager for The Maneuver Center of Excellence Directorate of Training and Doctrine at Fort Benning.

Through his struggles, Rhodes discovered a path to comfort. “I found that horses were very helpful to me. The dynamic part of that is, being a leader, once you find something that’s going to help you get through the challenges in life, you want to share it with other people.”

So like a good senior noncommissioned officer, Rhodes sprang into action to help others who may be suffering in silence, like he was. In 2008, Rhodes and his wife, Cathy, started the Wounded Warrior Horsemanship Program at Fort Benning. It allowed veterans and their families the chance to interact with horses during special events on post. As time went on, people kept asking us to do more and more though… so eventually, we did, said Rhodes. That is when the Wounded Warrior Horsemanship Program transformed Rhodes country home into the Warrior Outreach Ranch.


“In 2015, we decided to make it bigger and bought 15 acres, built the barn, and now expanded our home as a place for people to come, relax and enjoy life and relieve some of the stress of life.”

Warrior Outreach Ranch, which is a 20-acre ranch, is a sanctuary Rhodes and his wife created for veterans and their families.

“There are so many veterans suffering from challenges in their life – not only from the war, but just everything. So we want this to be a peaceful place for them to come,” said Rhodes.

At the ranch, peace comes in a variety of forms. Veterans can choose to walk a quiet trail, fish in the tranquil pond, hang out in the quaint club house, or Rhodes’ favorite activity – interact with the horses. Whether it’s feeding, grooming or riding the horses, Rhodes finds that his soul is quieted through the contact.

“They say the outside of a horse is good, for the inside of a man.”

Being around an animal that big, makes people focus, and focus is a key to dealing with stress, according to Rhodes. With all the stressors in today’s hectic pace of life, anything can trigger anxiety…if we let it, said the veteran who is a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star awardee.

“We can go into a downward spiral any day, over anything,” said Rhodes. But the retired command sergeant major found his way to refocus through horses over the years. And this form of therapy has worked for other veterans and their families too. That resiliency skill taught Rhodes, and his Warrior Outreach Ranch visitors, how to emphasize the good.

“You have to figure out a way to get a positive in what you are doing, and not focus so much on the negative things in life.”

The Warrior Outreach Ranch helps people do just through daily interaction or special events. Rhodes said the ranch was created for veterans, and he and Cathy tailor their time to what veterans and their families need. So whether veterans need a unit family day, class on resiliency or just time with the family in a quiet place, this retired command sergeant major is ready to help.

In December, over 50 Army Reserve Soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), spent the day at the ranch for their official family day. The relaxed family environment was filled with outdoor activities and time with the horses, said Capt. Cheryl Miller, an HHC officer with 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (IET), which is located on Fort Benning.

The local facility offered the Reserve Soldiers with a unique opportunity to unwind, said Sgt. 1st Class Marvin Chestnut, plans and operations noncommissioned officer, HHC, 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (IET).

“The Warrior Outreach Ranch put in a lot of hard work for our Soldiers to have a memorable experience, and really took the time to ensure the Soldiers were really enjoying themselves.”

The fact that the unit’s family day was at a fellow veteran’s home just added more to the day, and the unit could not be more thankful to Rhodes and his wife, said 1st Lt. Robert Burch, HHC commander, 1st Brigade, 98th Training Division (IET).

“They are absolutely fantastic people and their mission is an honorable and selfless one.”

Creating a ranch doesn’t just happen overnight though. It takes a lot of volunteers to run the nonprofit organization that is available at no cost to veterans. Lance Hoffman, a retired lieutenant colonel who was also diagnosed with PTSD, is one of those volunteers who keeps the ranch running.

Hoffman, who only found out about the ranch through a friend, said he offered to help out for one event, and hasn’t stopped since. That was a few years ago.

“Sam found out I had a chainsaw, and that was all she wrote,” said Hoffman who regularly helps clear brush and trees along the three main hiking and riding trails. “Now I am the proud owner of three chainsaws, two pole saws and several double bit and single bit axes and wedges and everything else.”

The large group of volunteers who keep the ranch running are a mix of veterans and their family members, as well as local citizens who just want to support the military and be around horses. As the volunteers muck stalls, familiarize visitors with the horses and cut trees, they are also building a larger family and stronger community.

“There is just a camaraderie out here,” said Hoffman. The close-knit family is always willing to adopt though, joked Hoffman.

“We need more volunteers. If you gotta chainsaw, come on. I got lots of work for us to do!”

However, not all volunteers need a chainsaw. There are plenty of other ways to help the ranch that range from administrative tasks to handing out equipment to visitors. And when time is not possible to give, others compelled to help can donate everything from hay to food to garden tools.

In full military style, Rhodes does give out one safety warning to all his guests and volunteers though, just so they know what they are getting into to.

“Once you come out here, you’ll fall in love with it and you won’t want to leave.”

~~~~

For those interested in scheduling an event at the Warrior Outreach Ranch or volunteering to aid the nonprofit organization, look for more information at http://warrioroutreach.org/.

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Ok, I have to get back to work now! 😘

Talk to you all more later.

Nato