Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Commander Col. Kimberly Peeples. Screenshot by Emily Mihalik

Armed forces leading the way for women, continue to break glass ceiling

Throughout history, women have been instrumental in the progression of this country. Women have fought in the nation’s wars but didn’t always receive the recognition that bestowed on men. Although the U.S. Constitution was officially signed Sept. 17, 1787, it would take the 19th Amendment signed Aug. 26, 1920 — 100 years ago — to give women the right to vote.

This year, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall commemorated Women’s Equality Day through a virtual program with female Soldiers telling their journey of what it means to be a woman in the Army.

JBM-HH Commander Col. Kimberly Peeples said Women’s Equality Day is an opportunity to reflect on the struggles, but more importantly, the achievements of American women throughout history.

“In line with the secretary of the Army and the chief of staff of the Army, Project Inclusion initiative, we shaped our observance into a listening session,” said Peeples. “Today, you will hear from two Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall leaders Capt. (Michelle) Su, (the commander of JBM-HH 529th Regimental Support Company, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and Command Sgt. Maj. (Jamila) Smith, (the command sergeant major of JBM-HH Headquarters Command Battalion). They will tell their stories and reflect upon women’s equality through their eyes.”

Su explained that she appreciates that the Army has opened all of its branches for women so they have they have an equal chance to compete against their male counterparts for competitive assignments.

“I’m very happy about that decision and I think that it’s definitely a stride in the right direction,” she said. “I think that’s what’s going to link our Army (and) our Department of Defense along with the rest of our society.”

Smith agreed with Su because she said for most of her career she has experienced equality, but there have been periods that her experience wasn’t the same as her male counterparts.

She realized early in life that she didn’t want to fit into the box of what she said were traditional roles for women. She recalled how her grandmother believed women had a place and their place was in the kitchen and cleaning the house.

“I have always been a rebel and I rebelled against that,” said Smith.

Smith joined the military because she believed she would have equality but her first experience with inequality was not getting a position after having the highest score on a physical fitness test. The leader told the Soldiers that the person who had the highest score would receive a certain position.

“I had the highest score but I didn’t get the position,” she recalled. “I didn’t get the position because I was told the uniform didn’t look as good on me as it did my male counterpart. At that time, leadership showed me ways I could slim down my hips. I was already 136 pounds and getting slimmer at my height, I would almost look nonexistent. That hurt. I didn’t say anything; I accepted it but was hurt.”

Smith used that hurt as motivation because she vowed that if she wasn’t the fastest, she would be just as fast or if she couldn’t do more, she would do just as much. She told herself she was going to be just as tactical and technical and have leaders tell her why she wasn’t being given the same opportunities are her male counterparts.

Although Smith has encountered a few bumps in the road, she said she has seen the changes in the Army.

“I’ve seen many changes and I’ve experienced women who are just as talented and the Army’s mindset and perception … has changed,” Smith said. “Don’t let anybody tell you based on your gender that you can’t do something. There is so much greatness around us.”

Peeples closed out the session by stressing the importance of listening because that leads to growing and appreciating the diversity, which is the Army’s strength.

“When I was growing up in Ohio my dad had a sign that read ‘girls can do anything,’” Peeples said. “I want to thank my father for instilling in me the values of equal opportunity of dignity, respect and love for this country.”