Against the dim backdrop of Fort Hood’s Legends Pub, a group of 15 soldiers sit in a circle. The scene doesn’t vary much from any other after-work gathering — they sip beverages, laugh at jokes and discuss everyday business, such as work and family.
One common trait binds the soldiers together. They are part of a demographic that comprises about 16 percent of the Army — women. And as the Army continues to broaden the spectrum of roles available to them, these women gathered at the pub for a sole purpose — cultivating more adaptive and resilient female military leaders.
Maj. Heather Gunther began planning the Women’s Mentorship Network after noticing an atypical amount of other women in senior ranks in her brigade combat team. It is more common to see women concentrated in support arms commands, Gunther said.
“We didn’t realize there were so many (on brigade combat teams),” said Gunther, communications officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “There was a big craving within the ranks to meet each other.”
Through the efforts of Gunther and a small group of other female officers, a grassroots organization began to take hold. Now, women from all ranks and units build social cohesion by participating in events such as lectures, races and charity work.
Last month, several volunteered to help build a house in Jarrell with Habitat for Humanity.
Amid the normal hustle and bustle of a construction site July 26, soldiers made connections with each other and with the local community, including the home’s owner, Sherri Parsons.
“It was great to work with some experienced people,” said Capt. Julie Leggett, commander of 3rd Brigade’s Charlie Company, 3rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, and event organizer.
“We’ll probably do another one six weeks from now. It’d be great to come back and put some finishing touches on Sherri’s house and get to see her toward the end when she’s about ready to move in.”
Additionally, Women’s Mentorship Network members meet throughout the week for hourlong mentoring sessions involving different empowerment activities.
“It’s a really neat tool for bringing women together to have professional and relevant discussions,” Gunther said. “The military is on the right path to embracing diversity, but women also need that psychosocial support. They need to ask relevant questions of people who can give informed answers.”
Due to the program’s decentralized structure, members trade off as mentor and mentee during each session — no single leader has emerged. The sessions cover a wide array of topics, all of them zeroing in on the professional challenges women face in a predominantly male profession — ranging from women’s health to emotional intelligence.
“Females do have certain issues and concerns, but they’re not girly talks,” said Maj. Wanda Booth, with the division’s 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade.
“It’s about leadership.”
The businesslike approach to mentorship was the selling point for 1st Sgt. Lenita Cornett, who said she has never seen anything like it in her 19 years with the Army.
“I don’t want it to be like, ‘Girl power,’” said Cornett, with Alpha Company, 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
“It’s not meant to exclude men. Women may deal with things a little bit differently than men, but we’re still equal. We’re still expected to live by Army standards.”
Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick with the 1st Cavalry Division contributed to this report.