NEWS | Oct. 8, 2015

A class to remember: Equal Opportunity Leaders Course

By Spc. Stephanie Ramirez 200th Military Police Command

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - Army Reserve Soldiers from across the country learned the skills they will need to be effective equal opportunity leaders during a course designed for that purpose July 13-18 in Farmingdale, New York.

Equal opportunity advisers from the 200th Military Police Command, 4th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 11th Aviation Command, 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 108th Training Command and the 391st MP Battalion trained 32 Soldiers to help ensure the Army remains the “melting pot” that America is known for being.

“The goal of the EO program is to eliminate discrimination and harassment,” said Joan K. Collins, the equal opportunity adviser for the 200th MP Command.

The Defense Department’s EO program was designed to ensure that everyone associated with the military is treated with dignity and respect.

“In order to achieve our goal, it is imperative that equal opportunity leaders push aside their personal biases and judgements, by simply putting them away in what I can best describe as a tightly sealed bag,” Collins said.

Demonstrating the ability to stay subjective in a situation that an EO leader would normally not agree with, is a sign that the bag carrying their opinions and biases has been successfully sealed.

“Attending the Equal Opportunity Leaders Course gave me the opportunity to learn how to open my mind and close my bag,” said Staff Sgt. Scott Meixsell, with the 744th MP Battalion in Easton, Pennsylvania. “EO isn’t about your feelings or your views; it’s about having a system in place through which Soldiers can report discriminative behavior so that it can be corrected.”

The EO program covers six categories of discrimination and harassment: race, religion, national origin, color, gender, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender categories. Mike Shadel one of the instructors at the course, emphasized that Soldiers who choose to be EO leaders must understand the importance of looking below the surface.

“As EO practitioners, we have to look under the water at the whole iceberg to get the facts,” he said.

The course consisted of activities that granted Soldiers the opportunity to understand the importance of looking below the surface and putting away personal judgements and values. In one exercise, eight Soldiers were assigned roles and asked to sit on a “sinking boat." In order to survive, they had to decide who would be sacrificed and thrown off the boat. The Soldiers wore name tags that described who they were and what their occupation was. The exercise pushed the Soldiers to ask the right questions in order to get a full picture of who a person is, rather than simply judging on initial impressions.

During another training block, the Soldiers played Star Power, a game that focuses on the different social classes and how perceived social status affect the ways people are treated. During the game, the Soldiers experienced how it feels to be discriminated against based on social status.

“Everybody has varying degrees of biases, but as EOLs, we have to learn how to put those aside so that we can make fair, unbiased decisions,” said Sgt. 1st Class Marvin A. Lautieri, the equal opportunity adviser for the Army’s Cadet Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky. “Regardless of whether or not I agree with what they stand for, they are a human being, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

The role of an EO leader is to ensure units are harassment-free workplaces for Soldiers.

“Discrimination isn’t just something that happened; it is happening right now, and it is important that people are educated so that it can be prevented,” Collins said. “I believe in the power of the chain reaction. If I can make a change in just one or two people, and they can make a change in just one or two people, then we will slowly but surely begin to see a difference.”