By Staff Sgt. Neil W. McCabe
310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command
A former commanding general of the 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) shared her reflections on her career, commanding the 310th ESC and what Women’s History Month means to her now.
“Being in the Army for 35 years, I’ve seen a lot of changes in how women are represented with the military, how we’re provided opportunities to take a bigger role,” said Brig. Gen. Cheryn L. Fasano, who was the first female commanding general of the Indianapolis-based 310th from 2018 to 2020.
“Historically, we weren’t,” said Fasano, who is now serving at the deputy commanding general of the New Orleans-based 377th Theater Sustainment Command.
“Women’s History Month—there’s been a lot of history,” she said. “There are a lot of women who sacrificed and worked hard and demanded change that allowed all of us to be where we all are.”
Fasano said some things have unfortunately remained the same.
The general said she read the 136-page Fort Hood Independent Review Committee report released Dec. 8 about the culture and climate at that installation. “I was shocked, but not surprised by what was in that report. I was disappointed that the viewpoints of many males regarding females in the military has not evolved since I joined 35 years ago.”
Fasano said her own observations about some male attitudes were validated by the report. “We’re seen as less than or not equal to them when it comes to sustaining ourselves on the battlefield—or to be on the battlefield.”
The Women’s Army Corps kept females out of the actual Army
The general said she is very aware of how there was originally a separate Army organization for women. “Women have always served in some capacity, but it wasn’t part of the military—there was the WAC’s who were created in World War II until 1978, I believe,” she said.
“The WAC’s were not part of the Army. They were an auxiliary,” Fasano said.
“I mean, 1978, which is only eight years before I enlisted—women were not part of the Army,” she said.
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was established in 1942 in a bill sponsored by Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers (R.-Mass.). In the next year, it was renamed the Women’s Army Corps. At its peak, during the Second World War, there were more than 150,000 female Soldiers serving in the WAC. These were the first female Soldiers to serve in the Army, who were not nurses.
“In 1978, we became part of the actual Army,” Fasano said. “But, we weren’t allowed to serve in combat arms positions with the exception of ADA and aviation—and to evolve in 35 years to where we have women Rangers, women infantry company commanders, women in armor units—to provide those opportunities to women is a long time coming, I believe.” ADA is shorthand for air defense artillery.
The general said with women now coming up the ranks through combat arms, there will be even more opportunities for them to command. “I am glad that is finally opened up.”
Fasano credits role models, mentors for her career progression
The general said she takes pride in the career of role models, such as Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, the first woman promoted to four-star general and she grateful for the example of Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson, who is the commanding general of Army North, or Fifth Army, and who was tapped to be the commanding general of U.S. Southern Command, a four-star command.
“General Dunwoody was the first female four-star general and that was in 2008, and now General Richardson has been selected to be the commander of Southcom,” she said.
There have been a lot of trailblazers before me that really set the stage for me, beyond where I am,” she said. “Now, General Daniels is the first female CAR.” Lt. Gen. Jody J. Daniels became the chief of Army Reserve in 2020.
Fasano said she has relied on the mentorship of Maj. Gen. Deborah J. Kotulich, the chief of staff of U.S. Transportation Command, Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.
“I have known her since we were both majors together in Iraq,” she said. “She’s been awesome, and she’s always been there and available for guidance.”
Another mentor for the general is her current commander, Maj. Gen. Susan E. Henderson, the commanding general of the 377th TSC.
“Watching her work and watching her lead has caused me to work a little harder on my own leadership,” she said.
“I’ve learned some positive things from her,” the general said. “She has the ability to see herself. She gives herself an honest assessment of herself and she gives honest assessments about others. She will tell you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear—which I find refreshing.”
Fasano was raised in an Army family, which forced her to enlist in Army Reserve
Fasano was raised by two Army officers. Her parents met in 1962 and married in 1967, her father was a West Point graduate who continued on active-duty until his retirement at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Her mother received a direct commission as an Army nurse in 1979.
The future general was the first offspring from her father’s West Point Class of 1967 to be commissioned as an Army second lieutenant, but her career had an abrupt start she did not welcome, nor expect.
One day, during her senior year in high school, Fasano said she came home to find her mother in the living room sitting with an Army Reserve recruiter.
When her mother told her that she was enlisting in the Army Reserve that day, the high school senior said she declined the opportunity. “Then, my mother told me to hand over my car keys and find a new place to live, after I graduated from high school.”
That day, she joined the Army Reserve.
After basic training and her military occupation training as a paralegal, she decided to take the Army Reserve more seriously and seek her commission. “I felt the enlisted path was not going to be the best for me, so I went into ROTC.”
Fasano was commissioned to second lieutenant in May 1989 from the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis ROTC program.
The general said she always considered the 20-year mark to be a time when she would decide about whether she would stay in or not, but when her 20-year mark came up, she was on orders in Germany, and she did not even think about it. “It just came and went.”
In the years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Indiana-native was mobilized for four active-duty tours for nearly 60 months, including a 2004 tour at Camp Balad, Iraq.
“I used to say that as long as I am being challenged and having fun, I’d stay,” she said. “It has not always been fun, but the challenges have always been there.”
Becoming a general officer
When she was a colonel, Maj. Gen. Michael C. O’Guinn, now the deputy chief of the Army Reserve, asked Fasano about her future, she said.
The colonel told the general she was looking at winding things up: “I’ve got five years until I retire.”
“He said you don’t have to do that,” she said. “He said I should challenge myself and put in for command.”
O’Guinn told her that she had the experience and education, including her master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College, if she took brigade command, it would make her qualified and competitive, she said.
Fasano takes command of 310th, returns home
As part of her general officer packet, she could request five assignments, so she put in for the Indianapolis-based 310th ESC without expecting to get it.
“I put down the 310th, I thought it would be kinda cool,” she said. “If I could get that it would be an amazing opportunity for me. I could go back home for a little bit.”
Still, the promotion to general officer and the assignment came as a shock, she said. “I never thought they would select me for general or that they would select me to take the 310th. It was a huge surprise, and I am eternally grateful.”
Part of going home was reconnecting with old acquaintances, the general said.
“It was really good because I still had friends there,” she said.
“I don’t really interact with my friends from high school, but I do with my ROTC buddies,” she said. “My four favorite ROTC buddies were still in town, so we were able to get together and socialize.” ROTC, or the Reserve Officer Training Corps, is an officer ascension program for college students.
Although, none of her four ROTC classmates stayed in the Army past captain, they all attended 310th ESC unit functions, such as dining outs and Fasano’s June 18, 2018 assumption of command.
“It’s nice to have a support system,” she said. “Sometimes in the Army, you are thrown into a city or location that you’re not familiar with and you don’t have any social or family ties—being able to go back to Indianapolis, where I have that support, was very helpful.”
Fasano’s command philosophy
The general said she is a proponent of the concept of mission command, which is when the commander provides the command guidance and intent and then trusts her leaders to make decisions at their levels.
“I didn’t micromanage my brigade commanders,” she said. “We would have discussions and do the adjustments, as necessary.”
The only other conversations were when there were questions or the commanders were not focused on her priorities, Fasano said. “They passed that down to the battalion commanders.”
“My biggest goal was to decentralize as much as possible and give the commanders the power, especially the power of the checkbook, to execute their missions.”
Fasano said her second priority was to make sure the units of the 310th ESC did not participate in training exercises west of the Mississippi River, unless there was a unique opportunity, such as training at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.
“Why send a unit that’s in Ohio all the way to Fort Hunter Liggett, when they can get the exact same thing at Fort McCoy?” she asked. Fort Hunter Liggett is in central California and Fort McCoy is in Wisconsin.
Fortunately, it was not a difficult issue to correct, because the Army Reserve does a good job with the training platforms and opportunities that they provide, she said.
These exercises include the Combat Support Training Exercise, or CSTX; the Quartermaster Liquid Logistics Exercise for petroleum and water units, or QLLEX; and the more specific exercises, such as Postal Warrior.
Leadership by presence
Another decision the general made was to visit the units in the command, she said.
“One of the things that made a huge difference is when Command Sergeant Major Gwin and I made a commitment that we would be where the Soldiers were,” Fasano said. Command Sgt. Maj. Keith Gwin is still with the 310th ESC as the senior command advisor to the current commanding general, Brig. Gen. Justin Swanson.
“Our place was not at the headquarters in Indianapolis,” she said.
“Our place was at the units, at the training exercises, at the CSTX’s, so I would say, 80 percent of our time was spent on the road,” she said. “We wanted to get face-to-face with the Soldiers, because it gets diluted, when you are at the one-star level and it has to get through brigade, and the battalions, and down to the company, and onto the actual Soldier—sometimes, the word doesn’t get out.”
Both the general and the command sergeant major saw the payoff, she said.
“We spent so much time on the road, talking face-to-face with Soldiers, talking about our priorities, taking questions, addressing Soldiers’ concerns that it really increased the success of the 310th,” she said.
“It is leadership by presence,” the general said.