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'I found myself in arenas where I was the only woman': New mentoring and morale program for female soldiers at US Army Central

The US Army Central at Shaw Air Force Base has started this new program, aimed at empowering female soldiers and civilians while educating leaders.

SUMTER, S.C. — Helping women in the military empower and support each other is the goal of a new program at the US Army Central (USARCENT) at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Although 18% of soldiers there are female, the chapter says everyone will benefit.

"I found myself in arenas where I was the only woman on many occasions," Cynthia Crippen-Cooks says as she reflects on starting out her career in the Army.

She currently works as a G-8 deputy, providing personnel management, resource analysis and oversight of budget policy, budget justification, and evaluation of the USARCENT budget in support of the Commands priorities.

When Crippen-Cooks was beginning her career, she says men and women were first starting to serve together. She had a realization that she’s been acting on for the past 40 years.

"I looked at my young soldiers and how they took care of me and I knew at that point that it was my duty to take care of the next woman behind me," Crippen-Cooks says.

Crippen-Cooks, along with Col. Valeria Johnson, who’s currently on temporary duty in Kuwait, has helped establish the Female Mentoring and Morale Program (FMMP) at the US Army Central headquarters at Shaw.

"When a soldier is starting, even when a new civilian is starting, it can seem like a big world of unknown. And if you have leaders like myself who are actively putting themselves out there, saying 'Hey. I’m a resource. Use me,' it makes it easier for them to approach you," Army Reserve Engagement Cell Director, and USARCENT FMMP Senior Advisor Johnson explains. "We have a people-first strategy. We want to create safety where soldiers are free to speak and free to bring problems to their seniors leaders and they’re comfortable doing so."

This new initiative will introduce mentoring opportunities and will host speakers and panels to help develop civilians and soldiers across ranks through fostering fellowship and understanding, which USARCENT G-4 Mobility Chief Maj. Tanya Payne tells me is helpful.

"I think where most people will probably get the most out of it is mentorship aspect of it. Because in mentorship, that will allow people to be able to maybe have those one-on-one conversations that they need to have," Payne shares.

From personal topics like balancing work-life with motherhood to issues like discussions on domestic violence, it’s not just for women; men are also invited to join as members of the program, which is led by a co-ed board. Johnson says she "intentionally made sure that the board had both males and females because this program is needed to empower and motivate all military and civilian leaders whether they are males or females."

"Women’s issues being brought to the table is only important when you have leaders who can fix those problems," Crippen-Cooks explains. "It’s not only about teaching us as women or giving us as women a voice, but it’s about teaching and providing a platform for those leaders to also learn how to engage with us as women."

"I want some of everybody in the room because I want you to be able to challenge my decision or my thought process. I don’t want it to be the same in a box.  I want to hear from all the individuals in the room. Is this going to work? And if it’s not going to work, why?" Johnson adds. "At the end of the day we want to bring all of our Army soldiers, civilians and contractors home from the battlefield, and it’s going to take having the right people at the table with different perspectives to get that done."

This new chapter of the program was put into motion by ARCENT Commanding Lieutenant Gen. Patrick Frank, and it will have coaching, mentoring and networking both in-person and virtually.

"I am appreciative of the leadership of this organization," Payne expands. "That being Lt. Gen. Frank and his enthusiasm about actually having this program be here and then also the opportunities that this program will bring to all of the members of this organization – not just females."


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