Dozens of Fort Drum community members attended the Women’s History Month observance March 9 at the Commons. Brig. Gen. Michelle Schmidt, 10th Mountain Division deputy commanding general – support, served as guest speaker at the annual observance, hosted by the 10th Mountain Division’s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum community members
celebrate Women’s History Month
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (March 10, 2020) – Fort Drum community members gathered March 9 at the Commons to celebrate the strength, spirit and perseverance of women and to recognize their many achievements during the Women’s History Month observance.
Brig. Gen. Michelle Schmidt, 10th Mountain Division deputy commanding general – support, served as guest speaker at the annual observance, hosted by the 10th Mountain Division’s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Schmidt said that it is important to highlight the accomplishments while also recognizing that more can be done to strengthen diversity and inclusivity in society.
“I think it is certainly important to recognize our history, and I grew up completely understanding that I would not be where I am today had it not been for the women before me who broke down barriers,” she said.
Schmidt encouraged attendees to actively promote diversity through deeds and actions to get the most out of everyone’s talents.
“In our profession we have to do this,” she said. “We must do this to win and to maintain our position as the best, the most powerful Army on this earth.”
To maintain superiority, Schmidt said that leaders must understand the opportunities, risks and changes required to advance into the future.
“Our leaders must be diverse, ideally with a diverse workforce, and they must think creatively about things,” she said.
Working with many strong, talented women across the intelligence community, Schmidt said that they often achieve great things without talking about their work or taking credit.
“I’ve worked with many women in our military over the years whose commitment to our country and to their teammates is just truly inspirational,” she said. “Some have blazed trails for the rest of us, despite enduring obstacles – whether it was limiting career opportunities, family struggles, harassment or animosity at work. Yet, they persisted and stayed the course. Some ultimately rose through the ranks to become senior leaders in our military.”
Among the people she mentioned, Schmidt said that Lt. Col. Jaimie Leonard, a 10th Mountain Division (LI) officer who was killed in action while deployed in Afghanistan, is a daily reminder of that inspirational commitment. She said that she met Leonard during a yearlong deployment in Kandahar.
“I can tell you that she was an integral member of the division’s command team,” she said. “She was well-respected across the Afghan leadership in Kandahar, which really says something, I think. Her understanding of complex tribal dynamics as well as Taliban influence was absolutely unmatched.”
Only a few months after the division headquarters returned to Fort Drum, Schmidt said, Leonard agreed to deploy again with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team because her experience and skills were so valued.
“Of course she said yes, because she knew she was needed and she felt a responsibility to do this,” Schmidt said. “And so she went, and unfortunately, just a few months later she was killed during an Afghan insider attack. I tell you, she inspires me every single day, especially those days when I walk into division headquarters and I see her picture on the screen showing those we have lost over the years.”
Schmidt said that it is imperative for Fort Drum community members to honor those sacrifices and accomplishments made not only by female service members, but of the entire formation.
“To be clear, I will tell you that I am inspired every single day by women and men in our military,” she said. “In fact, for me personally, I have many male mentors and leaders to thank for helping me to get to where I am. These men had an incredibly positive impact on me, both professionally and personally. They were great examples of what leaders ought to be, both in garrison and in combat. They pushed me to be better, and I owe them a great deal of gratitude.”
She encouraged other leaders to take on that mentorship role and inspire their Soldiers to be better.
“I think we do a good job of this in our division, and I’m proud of you all for it,” Schmidt said. “We’ve come a long way in our Army since I was first commissioned in 1992, and in many ways, our Army leads in social change. This is because for us, for our Army, it doesn’t really matter if you are male or female, or whether you are black or white, rich or poor, or where you were born. In this Army, you raise your right hand to serve, and for that reason we accept you, we respect you and we are proud to have you on our team.”