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Be fearless, take the tough jobs and mentor others: Army leaders offer insights to fellow female soldiers

Command Sgt. Maj. Lynice Thorpe-Noel remembers losing her “academic focus and passion” as a college student 30 years ago. She knew she needed to chart a new career path.

“I decided I wasn’t going back to college — and my plan was unknown to my parents — so I knew I had to come up with something very quickly, and fast, and in a hurry,” Thorpe-Noel said. “And so what I did is, within a couple of weeks, I was on my way to basic training.”

Thorpe-Noel was one of four female leaders who took part Monday in “A Discussion with Army Women,” a virtual event sponsored by the Association of the United States Army.

“Since joining the Army, I can honestly say being a soldier really has been my greatest passion,” she said.

Today, Thorpe-Noel is the first female senior enlisted adviser at Army Human Resources Command — a position she’s had since 2019.

“The truth is, it was a lot of hard work,” Thorpe-Noel said of her career. “But my path really included that I had a great support system and foundation, at home and everywhere I went in my journey through this military career.”

“Who I am as a leader today — I would tell you it was a village that helped me to really be where I’m at, and also provide those opportunities for me to have,” Thorpe-Noel said.

Thorpe-Noel said she recognizes the responsibility to share her knowledge with other soldiers as she offered advice to women — and their male counterparts — in the Army.

“Be fearless, try things and try new things, and if you fail, that’s okay,” Thorpe-Noel said. “It’s about getting back up and trying it again. Invest in yourself … whatever you do, do it well and know you matter. You have a voice that counts, and you are not alone.”

As a Black woman, Thorpe-Noel said that she did experience some bias and was stereotyped at times during her service in the military. Although she said she isn’t sure if those perceptions were due to the fact she was Black or a woman, Thorpe-Noel said she didn’t let those challenges stand in her way as she navigated her Army career.

“I didn’t let that be an obstacle for me. I let that be their responsibility,” Thorpe-Noel said.

“I wasn’t going to let any barriers of someone else’s biases or stereotypes be my responsibility that I have to work through,” Thorpe-Noel said.

Other Army leaders shared their professional advice for those coming up in the ranks — both male and female.

“Be competent. Learn all you can about your unit and your command, about your job and about your Army,” said Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, commanding general of U.S. Army North. “Be fit — mentally, spiritually and physically — and be competitive because winning matters. We cannot afford any weak links in our organization. The Army is a team sport and we need everyone on the team to be successful.”

Richardson, who is married to Lt. Gen. James Richardson, stressed the significance of having mentors throughout her career, including her husband. Likewise, she also recommended becoming a mentor to others.

“Bottom line: If you are a leader, you’re a mentor,” said Richardson, the first woman to command U.S. Army North.

Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, chief of the Army Reserve and commanding general of U.S. Army Reserve Command, expressed similar sentiments, noting that she had never considered graduate school or attending the U.S. Army War College to become a general officer until she received guidance from mentors.

“The fact that someone was even thinking I could be a general officer hit me in a couple of different ways and clearly had not been on my radar scope … but both comments encouraged me to take a path and pursue a path that I hadn’t considered,” said Daniels, who was the first woman to lead an Army service component. “I believe that’s how we can empower the next generation of female and male leaders.”

Daniels recommended soldiers think a few steps ahead to map out their next career goals. That will help them set goals for additional education or qualifications, she said.

“My advice to a young female who had just joined the Army, whether in any component, is to consider where you want to be two positions beyond now,” Daniels said. “That may seem like it’s a far way off, but it’s really, really not. Just like my leaders did for me, ask your leadership for their thoughts.”

“As you think about these various possibilities and options, examine what education or training you might need to get there,” Daniels said. “Then go make it happen. Take the tough jobs, the stretch positions, then go do the hard work and make the most of every opportunity.”

Today, women comprise approximately 19 percent of Army officers and 14 percent of enlisted personnel. Women in the Army have continued to break down barriers, and just last month, the first woman to complete the Army Special Forces Qualification Course and advance to become a Green Beret team graduated.

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