ARMY 101: Get off the grass!

When I first came into the Army, one of the stupidest rules to which I was subjected was that troops couldn’t walk on any patch of grass anywhere on post. If any part of our boot even touched any piece of grass, some uptight, eagle-eyed, high-ranking sergeant or officer with not enough work to do would spot us. It never failed.  These outdoor military watchdogs would call us out and yell at us before making us knock out an insane number push-ups on the ground until they got tired. Very humiliating to say the least!  Thankfully, I never got caught due to me quickly adapting to the drill sergeants’ conditioning and vowing to avoid the sad fate of other unwary troops being embarrassed.

So when I retired after 22 years of service, the very first thing I did was to thumb my nose at that insane rule under which I lived and served for so many years.  Once I got my retirement papers, I couldn’t wait to step on some grass anywhere on any post.  At times going a bit out of my way, I deliberately found the first patch of grass I saw. I walked on it over and over and over again like a crazy person.  I guess people looking at me from the windows of their buildings must have thought I had lost my mind, but I didn’t care. I even went so far as to think of actually laying down on the grass and rolling around on it as a playful puppy would do, but I thought that would draw too much negative attention.

Today, I was at Ramstein Air Base with the intention of visiting the post exchange.  After parking my car, did I use the fancy brick sidewalk that leads shoppers from the parking lot to the post exchange entrance door?  Oh, HELL NO!  On my own special mission like a muthafucking ex-noncommissioned officer, I felt emboldened to thumb my nose at that old Army rule. I walked over to that big field of neatly trimmed grass and took in a deep breath before I defiled it.  I felt so damn empowered to brazenly cut across that grassy area to get to the post exchange.

Yes, it has been years since I retired, but when the opportunity arises, I still feel the need to challenge authority in this way.  Defiance runs amok within me. Fortunately, there are no idiots around to yell obscenities at me to tell me to get my ass off some patch of grass! Yeah, the Army had conditioned me long enough!  Not sure if I will ever get this ‘grass turf thing’ out of my system. Over time, I have thought that I might need some type of therapy for this. Maybe I might even need to have a session with Dr. Phil.

I REMEMBER COLONEL WILLIAM BERRY

Colonel William Berry, Executive Officer

Office of the CINC USAREUR,

Heidelberg, Germany

When I was a Specialist in the Army and stationed in Heidelberg, I went to the bank on the post for a transaction. Before leaving the teller’s window, I counted the change she had given me and saw that she had short-changed me by $20.00. She insisted that she had given me the right change, but I knew she hadn’t. So rather than stand there and argue with her, I headed back to my office in a huff.  Not one to give up when I know I am right, I sought help from Colonel William Berry. He was the Executive Officer to the four-star Commander-in-Chief (CINC) of USAREUR.  Colonel Berry was an intelligent, no-nonsense officer, who ran the CINC’s office with diplomacy, tact, and a bit of wry humor in one hand and his proverbial whip in the other. He needed the whip to keep the straphangers (Those low-ranking officers vying for an audience with the CINC for no official reason at all) at bay. Like many others, I had a level of high respect for Colonel Berry. He was always fair but firm. I stood in the doorway to his office and he welcomed me in and told me to have a seat. I explained to him what had happened. He listened intently and told me to wait until just before closing time and he would go over there with me.  He knew I had two daughters by myself and that as a single parent, $20 meant a lot to me. He also knew that I was a soldier who told the truth.  I thanked him and returned to my desk in the outer office. I tried to get back to work, but being short-changed by that bank teller occupied the rest of my work day.  When 4:10 rolled up, Colonel Berry came to my desk with his hat in his hand and told me, “Let’s go.” I grabbed my hat and followed him down the hallway and out the side door through the garden to a path which led us to the post.  Approaching the bank, he opened the door for me and followed me in. The teller who had shortchanged me was still at her window, but Colonel Berry thought it would be best to consult with the bank manager on about this situation.  After asking for the manager, she came out to greet us and led us to her office to listen to my situation. She said that the tellers are required to count their trays at the end of the day. She said that she would have the teller who did my transaction to tabulate her intake transactions for the day to see if there was any discrepancy.  The bank manager listened intently, left her office briefly and returned to tell Colonel Berry and me that the teller, indeed, was $20 over the amount of what she should have taken in.  She handed me my $20. I smiled and thanked her and so did Colonel Berry. As I left the bank with him, I could not have been more proud to serve with such an outstanding, upright, caring Army officer. I wanted to give him a big hug, but that was out of the question and would be unprofessional. As we walked back to the Keyes Building where we worked, I stopped for a moment. He turned around to look at me and I looked him in the eye and said to him with the utmost respect, “Thank you, Colonel Berry.”  Smiling, he said, “You’re welcome.”  He knew that was my big hug from me to him.

 

 

Tour of Duty: Army Equal Opportunity Advisor

Looking back on the world-wide internal personnel turmoil in 1997, I remember that the United States Army was slowly recovering 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 the ranks, cutting deeply into the moral fabric of the regimented military structure.  In immediate response to the perceived wide-spread misconduct, the Department of the Army (DA) took swift action to appropriately address and eliminate these types of behaviors.  For added measure, DA conducted a comprehensive review of the human relations climate and its Equal Opportunity Program.  As a result of that review, DA implemented a series of procedures to identify shortfalls in human relations and the Equal Opportunity Program and determine courses of action to improve their effectiveness.  DA also focused primarily on EO training, the complaint process, avenues of redress 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 levels are responsible for and held accountable for their Equal Opportunity programs.  Vital elements in each commander’s Equal Opportunity programs are Equal Opportunity Advisors (EOAs) and Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs).   Both require specialized training, and both have specific duties to assist commanders with their unit EO programs.  DA selects NCOs (SSG (P)(promotable) 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 their DEOMI training, DA assigns them as EOAs or EOPMs at commands brigade level or higher.  Usually with advice 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, which to me was the equivalent of tumbling over Niagara Falls in a rickety rubber raft.  But as an Army Equal Opportunity Advisor, 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 in Germany.

Knock,  Knock, Knock . . .
“Come in!” roared the thunderous voice.  Cautiously and slowly opening the door, I stepped into this enormous office.  Rising from the center of the plush carpet was a huge, highly polished desk the size of an old Army jeep.  Behind that desk loomed my nemesis, The Entity, beaming with military confidence in its high-back, leather swivel chair.  With muscular arms the size of tree trunks folded across its massive chest, The Entity stared at me through those charming, thick, black-rimmed Army-issued glasses.  Prominent canine incisors reinforced the corners of its rigid mouth.  Yet, it looked no less imposing with a high-and-tight haircut, which gave its large head the appearance of a crock-pot with Prince Charles ears.  I faked a weak cough to suppress a laugh, which started rising in my throat.  With its steely eyes still on me, The Entity remained motionless as I slowly inched towards its desk, stopping four feet from the edge as a safety precaution.   Nosy by nature, I took a quick glance to soak in the impressive surroundings, which attested to The Entity’s years of combat experience.   Hundreds of awards ranging from Viet Nam spoils of war to Desert Storm certificates blanketed three of The Entity’s walls.  On the wall behind The Entity was a menacing-looking silver saber, bearing several rust spots.  I figured that these ‘accoutrements’ had to be the dried blood of countless enemies who’d probably paid a hefty price for ticking The Entity off.  No small comfort to me was that this saber was well within The Entity’s reach.  Like invincible sentries, two empty .50-caliber shells stood at the front of each end of The Entity’s desk, which was somewhat of a welcome barrier between me and the figure looming behind it.  Unfortunately, I had yet to find out if this individual was friend or foe.

Sprouting from a camouflage-painted tin bucket in one corner of the desk was a healthy-looking Venus Flytrap plant.  I presumed, by its girth, that this little ‘pet’ had been trained in combat 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 to The Entity.

After wrapping up that distressing assessment, I prepared to announce the purpose of my ‘intrusion.’  But before attempting to speak, I centered myself on The Entity, as is normal military procedure.   In return, The Entity leaned forward and plopped its beefy arms on the desk.  Increasing the tension was the swivel chair, which released an excruciating squeak as he leaned forward, giving me disturbing flashbacks of my first NCO E-5 board appearance.  Now thoroughly scared beyond description, I thought about doing a quick about-face and getting the hell outta there, but by regulation, I had to get this intro briefing over with.  Tapping his fingers on the desk, which signaled his impatience, The Entity waited for 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 a 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, Sergeant?”
“My branch and the Department of the Army,” I murmured.  “I’ll be here for three years as the brigade’s EO Advisor.”

I felt pitiful as my inner sense of reasoning began to rationalize this situation.  I questioned my intelligence and thought process about what the hell prompted me to step 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 person.  As I sat down in a huge chair next to its desk, I began to sink into the cushion 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 look military enough to continue my briefing without disappearing in between the cushion or falling to the floor in a heap.

Instead of this EO trip easing up, my rickety rubber raft 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 someone beating on a tom-tom drum.  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, which started to trickle down my face.

Just as I started my EO 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 Game-of-Thrones nightmare.  Maybe this is the real ‘hostile environment’ the DEOMI staff warned us new DEOMI graduates about.  Grabbing my second wind, I pressed on with, “That may be true, but there are many other aspects of the Army’s 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 help commanders in gauging their unit climate to uncover and address any problems.  These EO mechanisms check the pulse of the unit to determine 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 ways 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 make sure 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.
“At DEOMI.”
“What’s a DEOMI?” it probed.
“It’s the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute; DEOMI is the acronym.  The DEOMI staff comprises highly trained personnel from four military branches and experienced civilian personnel.  They teach the EO courses at Patrick Air Force Base.”
The Entity raised its eyebrows and remarked cynically, “Oh, Cocoa Beach, Florida, eh?”
Kicking aside the sarcasm, I boldly charged on with, “Yes, and it’s a very intense 16-week course covering the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program and several areas in human relations.”

The more I talked, the more interested The Entity 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 migraine headache.

Wrapping up my session with The Entity, I felt like this had been one of the longest, hardest 30-minute briefings in my entire military career.  From outward appearances, The Entity seemed thoroughly satisfied with my information.  And I was pleased at the change in The Entity’s 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 and exceeded my goal.  Flexing my newly acquired EO muscles, I felt ready for the long haul and challenges of this 3-year assignment.

“So, SFC Metz, you’re scheduled to see the brigade commander next.”   “Thank you, sergeant major.”  As I left, the The Entity’s troll winked at me, and I gave myself a mental HOOAHH!”