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'Divas in boots' - Female mentoring divides troops

Jan. 17, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A reader provided images of a brochure for the female mentoring program at Fort Stewart, Ga. Topics included tips for a healthy lifestyle, but some questioned the need for tips on couponing.
A reader provided images of a brochure for the female mentoring program at Fort Stewart, Ga. Topics included tips for a healthy lifestyle, but some questioned the need for tips on couponing. (Courtesy photo)
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Internet outrage is brewing over a female mentorship program at Fort Stewart, Ga., that featured a couponing class and the slogan “divas in boots.”

The program had a worthy goal, to connect female soldiers on the post — and it featured two high-powered female flag officers who talked about balancing work and life in a male-dominated Army.

But some of the more domestic elements of the Jan. 10 launch event sparked a firestorm on the Facebook page “U.S Army W.T.F! moments.” Along with a raft of crass rants condemning women in the military, female soldiers complained the event was too “June Cleaver” and not enough “G.I. Jane.”

“It was for housewives, not soldiers — and not all of us are married,” one 21-year-old specialist who attended told Army Times. “I would have liked more about universities or [the scholarship program] Green to Gold.”

On Facebook, another said it sounded “like group therapy.”

“Talking about sports bras, make-up brushes and couponing is a conversation that needs to be left outside of work, with a battle buddy or someone,” one female soldier commented. “If we’re going to have classes like these then make them more specific to the regulations and standards that we have to uphold.”

But on the post, nearly 90 percent of the feedback has been positive, according to Col. Dianne Pannes, the military lead. Pannes defended the addition of vendors, who had asked to participate in the event, and the classes (including couponing), as a way to spark connections between soldiers.

Pannes said she appreciates the constructive criticism she has heard and said it would “absolutely” inform the program’s evolution in brigades and battalions. It was modeled after successful programs in other units.

Fewer than 10 percent of soldiers on the post are women, said Pannes, who leads the dental activity at Stewart. Post commander Maj. Gen. John Murray requested the program to combat isolation and encourage the expansion of female soldiers’ networks.

Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Kinsey, who leads her brigade’s program, called it “very positive.” She said in the 17 years in the Army, she worked with one female senior leader at the start of her career 17 years ago and the next one in 2010.

“In between, it’s all been male leaders, so I’m passionate about helping younger females or any female who wants that mentorship,” Kinsey told Army Times.

Capt. Katie Martinez, a medical company commander, said the speakers, Army intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Mary Legere and Army Medical Command deputy commander Maj. Gen. Nadja West, spent more than an hour answering questions—some from junior enlisted soldiers—and spoke candidly about their careers.

“I left very inspired,” said Martinez, an expectant mother, married to a soldier.

Martinez stuck up for the couponing class as “ incredibly popular,” offered alongside tobacco cessation and healthy eating instruction.

She and Kinsey said there were no makeup tips, as was rumored, but Kinsey confirmed “divas in boots” was the slogan of her brigade’s mentoring program. She saw no problem with it.

The U.S Army W.T.F! thread showed the expanded role of female soldiers remains controversial, as it sparked a raucous debate over traditional gender roles.

Kinsey and Martinez dismissed the controversy as based on exaggerated impressions from people who weren’t there. Attendees gave it glowing reviews, they said.

Female mentorship initiatives have been springing up at Army posts, and are considered an installation commander’s program, said an Army spokesman at the Pentagon. They are not part of an Army-wide effort. Such groups have been reported at Fort Jackson, S.C.; Fort Shafter, Hawaii; Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and Fort Bragg, N.C.

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