Army Women’s Initiatives Team ready to tackle barriers for service women

When Army Sgt. Nicole Edge started a Facebook page called “Army mom life,” she didn’t know her idea would eventually expand to an Army-wide Women’s Initiatives Team (WIT). The Facebook page provided a forum for concerns about issues specific to women serving in the Army and it drew the attention of senior leaders.

As a result, the Army started WIT to address a wide range of topics including quality of life and career advancement for women soldiers. With its new team in place, WIT will hold its first meeting in August.

“WIT will enable representatives from across the Army to recommend policy programs and resource changes to support women’s advancement in their careers — everything from recruiting and retention to promotion and careers in the Army,” said Jeffrey Angers, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for military personnel and quality of life, and one of the chairmen of WIT.

WIT consists of three chairpersons and a 30-person team pulled from a pool of applicants who applied to join the program.  The group will determine its agenda and priorities when it meets, but the emphasis will be on improving the experiences  of Army women.

Angers said he expects the team to take an in-depth look at topics associated with reproductive health care and pregnancy. Although the Army addressed many of those issues in a directive last year aimed at supporting women’s health during and after pregnancy, Angers said more can be done.

For example, he said allowing child development centers to have “no salute zones” might not seem like a big issue, but it would help parents.

“What women told us is when you get out of the car and you’re carrying a young child and you have a diaper bag and you walk up and now you have to salute an officer— it’s not easy,” Angers said.

While women make up only about 15% of the Army’s active duty forces, ongoing recruitment and retention problems service-wide mean senior leaders are motivated to support changes that make the Army more women-friendly. WIT representatives will come from the active component, National Guard,  Army Reserve and the Army’s civilian workforce. The group will be led by Angers along with  Lt. Gen Laura Potter and  Sgt. Maj.  Jill Crosby.  Board members will serve for one to three years with possible term extensions.

“When you look at the actual numbers, we have a good balance between officer, enlisted, civilian, active reserve and guard for folks who are in uniform. And the aim is to create synergy between folks who might not actually have the chance ever to work with each other in the Army,” Angers said.

After the team comes up with plans, senior leadership will approve them and push them up to the next level of authority.

“We will develop decision packages for senior leadership where we make the recommendations. These will go through the [assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, Agnes Schaefer], where she will have the opportunity to provide her input and then it will go to senior leadership depending on what level of approval we will need,” he said.

The Air Force has its own Women’s Initiatives Team which advocates for removing barriers for women service members. The group has pushed for policies to make it easier for Air Force mothers. Last year, it helped get the Defense Department to agree to a change in joint travel regulations so nursing mothers could be reimbursed for the cost of shipping breast milk when they are on official travel for more than three days.

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