Tour of Duty: Army Equal Opportunity Advisor

Looking back on the worldwide 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 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 same as 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 made its large head resemble 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 ‘accouterments’ 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 person 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 the 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 bean bag 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 a 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 decide 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.
“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!”