CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait –
On her first deployment to Kuwait with the 29th Infantry Division in support of Operation Spartan Shield, Spc. Shenika Marable wistfully wished to be an equal opportunity leader (EOL) for the unit. Army regulations that required an EOL be a sergeant-promotable or higher rank dashed her hopes.
Now a staff sergeant and on her second deployment here, Marable not only got a seat in the class, she was also named an honor graduate - a recognition classmates gave her for exhibiting the traits they think most important in an EOL.
A 2015 graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University, Marable said she joined the Army because she wanted to be part of an organization she couldn’t walk away from. What began as a hope, however, quickly turned to a reality Marable said she sometimes struggled with.
“Straight out of [advanced individual training] and on my first deployment, I saw a lot of things that made me question why I joined the Army,” she said. The way leaders talked to Soldiers, for example, concerned her – and although she grew up in a family that encouraged confidence – she realized others might not have been so lucky. Words had meanings and some of what leaders said, whether intentional or unintentional, had impact.
“I was raised in a particular way - that everyone can eat, everyone deserves a chance. Soldiers who are new to the Army and may not be as strong - reality can hit them hard. So, it’s important to instill certain values that Soldiers and leaders can live by,” she said.
Part of living the values that encourage inclusion, she said, is to break away from traditions that might have seemed innocuous but have the potential to make others feel excluded or uneasy. Examples cited in the EOL class, said Marable, are blood ranks and wings, a tradition in which a person getting promoted receives a new pin-on rank or wings, and a well-meaning Soldier congratulates them by hitting them on the collar so hard that the sharp ends on the rank or wing break the skin, drawing blood.
“We were told that those days were over because it wasn’t right,” she said.
As an EOL, Marable’s job is to be the eyes and ears of the command and advise leaders on ways to make their units more inclusive so as to maximize readiness.
It's a goal she's committed to, she said, because the EO program touches every aspect of the Army.