As the Army's lead intelligence officer, Lt. Gen. Laura A. Potter has had her share of assignments as the "first woman" to serve in a given role, she said.
"I came into the Army when lots of positions were closed to women," the deputy chief of staff, G-2, said last week. "Each opportunity allowed me to hone my leadership skills, not through the lens of gender, but to meet the requirements and excel in each role."
Over her 32-year career, Potter witnessed many changes in support of diversity, equity and inclusion, such as the lifting of restrictions on combat arms positions to give women more opportunities to serve, she said.
The service’s recent shift to place its people first has also led to modifications to grooming and appearance standards, a gender-neutral minimum standard for the Army Combat Fitness Test that aims to reduce injuries and prepare Soldiers for combat, and an extended timeline to support new mothers, among other changes.
"There was a systemic aspect of self-limitation when I first came into the military," Potter said. "With that limitation gone, I think every woman coming in the Army can aspire to the highest level of greatness they want to achieve."
Potter is the head of an all-women leadership team -- another unique opportunity for her and a first for the Army.
Joining her are Diane Randon, the assistant deputy chief of staff, G-2; Reserve Maj. Gen. Mary-Kate Leahy, the assistant deputy chief of staff, intelligence; and Sgt. Maj. Julie Guerra, the G-2's senior enlisted advisor.
"I have never had a more supportive and collaborative team in my career," Guerra said. "It is not about one of us -- it is about all of us. It's about pushing the Army intelligence enterprise to the next objective, being good stewards of the profession, and setting the right example as leaders and women."
Unique leadership dynamic
"Although many people highlight the fact we are all females, the truth is we were selected for our respective leadership position based on what we bring to the team and our accomplishments," Guerra said. "We offer unique value and perspective to the enterprise in spite of our gender."
The team brings close to 130 years of combined Army experience, Guerra said, adding that she joined the Army about 26 years ago.
"I can leverage the expertise of the women on my left and right, based on what they've done in their careers," Potter said.
Guerra's leadership experience serves as the backbone of the enlisted corps, as she brings a wealth of operational and institutional expertise to the intelligence branch, Potter added.
As a career civil servant, Randon started as a summer hire and spent 35 years moving up in positions. Through her experience, she learned the value of investing in people and creating growth opportunities, she said.
"Our collective team is very supportive," said Randon, adding that the group dynamic feels much like a family.
Leahy served on active duty for six years before moving to the Army Reserve. After a few years working in the civilian sector, she soon realized how much she missed the Army's mission, teamwork and culture. Leahy eventually returned to the force under the Active Guard Reserve program as an individual mobilization augmentee.
"I think that experience of leaving the Army, and then very deliberately figuring out how to come back, shaped the remainder of my career," she said. "I just appreciate being part of this incredible institution."
As a core member of G-2, Leahy enjoys the openness and transparency of the current leadership. Every opinion feels valued amongst the team, she said.
"All of us have had both male and female mentors and role models," Leahy said. "This isn't just about women, helping women. It is about professionals, helping other professionals."
The leaders use their experience to support the military intelligence discipline, which collects and analyzes data across a range of sources to drive missions within a multi-domain operational environment, Potter said.
The Army's intelligence branch also employs various skill sets connected to the geospatial, human, counter, signal, and all-source intelligence disciplines. Each field's unique quality allows Soldiers, civilians, and contractors with diverse backgrounds and educations, an opportunity to contribute, Randon said.
Intelligence is also critical to the success of modern and enduring weapon systems, Potter said. It provides commanders with increased situational awareness to guide them during times of competition and crisis.
"The synergy between intelligence and operations is essential," Leahy said. "A commander counts on us to do predictive intelligence, which often requires us to come to the table with the information they might not want to hear."
People continue to be the primary focus moving forward, as G-2 leaders continue to evaluate the credentials each analyst will need to support a multi-domain operations capable force, Potter said.
Army senior leaders have already implemented various talent management programs to better align personnel based on their knowledge, skills, behaviors, and preferences.
Officers now have the option to "opt-in" for early promotion or "opt-out" of consideration to support a career development opportunity, Leahy said. In turn, having more career flexibility is a step in the right direction.
"It is also about finding that work-life balance," said Potter, as she acknowledged the decision of some women to leave the military to have a child. The Army is continuing to refine current policies to support a Soldier's choice to stay in the Army and start a family.
"I had my first child when I was in battalion command, and I had leaders that took good care of me through that journey," she added. “I hope that during Women's History Month, women realize that they do have the opportunity to be both be a leader and a mother if they choose to do so."
"Although it is significant that we are the first all-women leadership team to serve on the Army’s primary staff, it is more important for the Army to institute talent management practices ensuring we are not the last," Guerra said.
Women's History Month
In honor of this monthlong observance, Soldiers should take the time to learn about the pioneering women who helped forge a path for all to serve, Potter said.
"We could talk about women in service during every war our nation has faced," Potter said. "I tend to gravitate to World War II [and] the Women's Army Corps, which put a structure in place" for a fully-integrated Army.
Women like Aline Griffith, Virginia Hall, or former Sgt. 1st Class Gertrude Noone.
Recruited after college, Griffith monitored German movements throughout France as a member of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services during WWII, Potter explained.
Considered to be one of the most dangerous American spies in France, Hall was an amputee who jumped behind enemy lines with a wooden leg under her arm. As a member of the OSS, she helped free captive personnel and saved countless lives.
Potter also recalled the sound advice Noone offered to three young females during an enlistment ceremony in Milford, Connecticut, in 2009. Then-Lt. Col. Potter attended the ceremony as Secretary of the Defense Pete Geren's executive officer, the first female to serve in that role.
Soldiers need courage, grit, discipline, and must meet the Army's standards, Noone said to the group of young Soldiers as they asked for advice.
The former Soldier served as the chief clerk of the dispensary at Fort Myer, Virginia. Noone was 44 years old when she enlisted into the Women's Army Corps during the war and left the Army after six years of service.
"It was so heartwarming to hear a 110-year-old woman impart the [Army's] fundamental values that have endured throughout our history," Potter said. "This was probably one of my proudest moments, in terms of linking past women in the military to the present and future."