Tales from the “EO” Files
By SFC (Ret) CORA ANN METZ (USA)
The United States Army had slowly recovered from one of its toughest times in history. Recent allegations and charges of sexual harassment, abuses of authority, and other unacceptable behaviors created shock waves throughout our ranks, cutting deeply into the moral fabric of our military structure. In immediate response to this misconduct, the Department of the Army (DA) took action to appropriately address and eliminate these types of behaviors. For added measure, DA conducted a comprehensive review of the human relations climate and the Equal Opportunity Program. As a result of that review, DA implemented of a series of procedures to identify shortfalls in the Equal Opportunity Program and determine courses of action to improve its effectiveness. DA focused primarily on training, the complaint process, avenues for complaints, and protection of complainants as well as the accused from retaliation and reprisals.
Army Regulation 600-20, Chapter 6, outlines the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program. In accordance with this regulation, commanders at all echelons are responsible for and held accountable for their equal opportunity programs. Vital elements in each commander’s equal opportunity program are Equal Opportunity Advisors (EOAs) and Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs). Both require specialized training, and both have specific duties. DA selects NCOs (SSG(P) and above) to attend a 16-week course at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI), Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. DA may also select officers to attend either the 16-week EOA Course or a six-week EO Program Manager’s Course (EOPM). After attendees successfully complete the DEOMI training, DA assigns them as EOAs or EOPMs at brigade level or higher. Usually with input from EOAs, commanders select noncommissioned officers (NCOs Staff Sergeant and above) and officers to attend a two-week Equal Opportunity Leader’s (EOL) course at 7th Army Training Command, Combined Arms Training Center, Vilseck, Germany. After successfully completing this course, the NCOs and officers are assigned as EOLs at battalion level and below. However, because of their extensive training, EOAs usually shoulder the bulk of the responsibilities for assisting commanders with implementing and maintaining unit EO programs. Contrary to some perceptions, the jobs of Equal Opportunity Advisors and Leaders are extremely tough and often very frustrating, the equivalent of navigating Niagara Falls in a rickety rubber raft. But nothing was as tough for me as making that first impression and pitching my role as an EO Advisor to my new chain of command.
Knock, Knock, Knock . . .
Sprouting from a camouflage-painted tin bucket in one corner of the desk was a healthy-looking Venus Flytrap. I presumed, by its girth, that this little ‘pet’ had been combat trained to munch on tidbits of human flesh left in the wake of The Entity’s past skirmishes. In another corner was a four-inch-high troll doll with shocking pink hair and one big white tooth peeking through a permanently frozen sinister grin. This little imp seemed to be laughing at me as if it doubted my ability to survive this initial EO briefing.
After completing that distressing assessment, I prepared to announce the purpose of my ‘intrusion.’ But before attempting to speak, I centered myself on The Entity. In return, it leaned forward and plopped its beefy arms on the desk. Increasing the tension was the swivel chair, which released an excruciating squeak, giving me disturbing flashbacks of my first NCO board appearance. Now thoroughly scared beyond description, I thought I should best do an about face and get the hell outta there, but by regulation, I had to get this over with. Tapping its fingers on the desk impatiently, The Entity contemplated my next move. With my mouth thoroughly dry, I squeezed out, “Good morning, I’m Sergeant First Class Metz. I’m your new Equal Opportunity Advisor.”
Furrowing its thick, caterpillar-like eyebrows, The Entity snapped, “My what!” Cringing, I made a mental note to get my hearing checked, for I had never experienced a human voice at that decibel in such close confinement. Clearly uncomfortable with my introduction, The Entity snarled, “I didn’t order any Equal Opportunity Advisor. Has the G1 gone mad? Who sent you here?”
I felt pitiful as my inner voice began to rationalize this situation, questioning my intelligence and thought process about stepping into this EO job. But now was not the time to start arguing with myself. Weighing the odds of having to possibly deliver my EO pitch standing up, I silently prayed for The Entity to offer me a seat, because my quivering legs needed a rest. Sensing that I was ill at ease, The Entity snorted, “Take a seat, Sergeant Metz, you look kind of pale.” Now, that asinine remark struck me funny. I thought looking pale was impossible for a Black NCO like me, but now was not the time to discuss racial characteristics with this individual. As I sat down in a huge chair next to its desk, I began to sink in until my knees stopped just six inches short of my chin. It was like sitting in a giant beanbag chair. After a few minor adjustments, I steadied myself enough to continue my briefing without falling to the floor in a heap.
Instead of this EO trip easing up, my canoe headed into more treacherous waters with the onset of a migraine headache. This ‘unwelcome guest’ caused my eyes to water and my head to throb like an irregular heartbeat. Though feeling like my head was about to explode, I knew that this was not the time to ask this brute for aspirin. Seeking some relief, I opened my purse and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at my eyes and the sweat trickling down my face.
Just as I started my pitch, The Entity boasted, “This is an infantry brigade, Sergeant Metz. We don’t have any EO problems. We treat everybody the same—like soldiers. We’re a mean, green fighting machine. We all get along just fine.”
I thought that this EO stint would be a cushy job, but this caustic drama was turning into an Elm Street- nightmare. Maybe this is the real ‘hostile environment’ the DEOMI staff warned me about. Grabbing my second wind, I pressed on with, “That may be true, but there are many other aspects of the equal opportunity program of which you may not be aware.” “Like!” roared The Entity, registering about 7.2 on the Richter Scale. Recovering from the aftershocks, I steadied myself and continued, “Like climate surveys, assessments and sensing sessions--these are some tools to assist commanders in gauging their unit climate. These mechanisms check the pulse of the unit, determining how soldiers perceive the unit leadership and chain of command. But for any EO program to be successful, commanders must first be committed to the program and must assure their soldiers of that commitment. Moreover, commanders should clearly state and post EO and sexual harassment policy letters as well as procedures of the complaint process. Also, it is extremely important for commanders, as well as supervisors, to address complaints promptly, thoroughly and fairly. Additionally, commanders should guard against retaliation and reprisals directed towards complainants and ensure that complainants receive feedback on all issues.
In order for any training to have a lasting impact, it must be effective. Equal opportunity training should be conducted in that same vein--with fervor and commitment--because equal opportunity is a leadership function of command. EO-related training can consist of Army values, gender-related subjects, racism, and cultural diversity as well as other human relations topics, which are equally effective in increasing awareness and maintaining a healthy command climate. Also, ethnic observances educate soldiers about cultural differences, contributions and sacrifices of all Americans, giving soldiers a greater appreciation for the Army’s diverse make-up.
The Department of the Army’s EO Program encourages soldiers to attempt resolving complaints within the chain of command and/or at the lowest level. However, other agencies are available should soldiers, for any reason, feel the necessity to seek assistance outside their chain of command. Available are unit chaplains, EOAs, CID, the IG, JAG, personnel from medical and housing facilities, and Military Police. The goal is to create and maintain a climate in which all personnel are treated with dignity and respect.”
“Where did you get you training?” The Entity queried skeptically.
The more I talked, the more interested it became. The more questions it fired at me, the more confident I grew. I saw The Entity's slight interest rise from a mere flicker to a roaring flame hungry for more information. Feeling like a superwoman, I was finally on a roll, even managing to DX (discard) that pesky headache.
Wrapping up my session with The Entity, I felt like this had been one of the longest, hardest 30-minute briefings in my military career. The Entity seemed thoroughly satisfied with my information, and I was pleased at the change in its demeanor. The gruff exterior had given way to a normal, likable member of my new chain of command. I knew then that I had met my goal. Flexing my newly acquired EO muscles, I felt ready for the long haul.
“So, SFC Metz, you’re scheduled to see the brigade commander next.” “Thank you, sergeant major.” As I left, the troll winked at me, and I gave myself a mental HOOAHH!”