By Maj. J. Scott Detweiler
Joint Force Headquarters
“Diversity” and “inclusion” have become buzzwords from boardrooms to factory floors. But for military organizations, like the Vermont National Guard (VTNG), these words underscore the importance of its most valuable resource – people. Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs) play a critical role in helping leadership recognize and embrace differences in their members as an asset to credibly meet today’s challenges.
This past October, 29 Soldiers from Vermont and Connecticut participated in an intense six-day training course to become EOLs. The course consisted of classroom instruction, coupled with hands-on exercises designed to give students the tools they need to assess human relations, provide advice, and act upon discriminatory practices.
Capt. Todd Connolly, the Human Resource Equal Opportunity Officer, who took on a leading role in organizing the training, stressed the importance of the Equal Opportunity Leaders Course (EOLC). “The Army's EOLC is such a valuable and rewarding course for Soldiers to experience. The classes you take and the relationships you build is what I feel makes the course special.”
Staff Sgt. Hilary Ward, who took the class observed, “Many of us think because we live in Vermont we don’t see a wide angle of diversity; but in fact we do. The EOL Course opens your eyes and your heart to seeing/feeling who we are and who we work beside every day."
The course is hard work. Among other topics, students learn about racism, sexism, power, prejudice, and the bystander effect. “There is also an emphasis on developing good communication skills,” said Duffy Jamieson, the State Equal Employment Manager. “Such skills are essential when dealing with discrimination issues because often people don’t feel they’ve been heard.”
“What also made the course so valuable was our partnership with instructors from the Vermont Air National Guard,” Jamieson said. “Having them on the faculty created a cohesive team. It brought the organization together.”
After all students graduated, Master Sgt. Tricia Sprano, Equal Opportunity Advisor and a primary instructor, reflected, “the class was filled with students from a variety of backgrounds: different units, MOS's, and rank structures. To watch them all learn and come together on such an important subject was eye-opening.”
The students will now return to their units to help commanders establish unit cultures rooted in dignity and respect, where members all recognize their value to the team. In fact, the VTNG has come to understand diversity and inclusion as more than just buzzwords, but as a critical asset in developing highly functional teams.
“As graduates from the course, these newly casted EOLs now possess the skills required to advise commanders about informal complaints, they can conduct unit level equal opportunity training, and they can assist in climate assessments,” said Connolly. In short, “they are ready to be the primary resource for equal opportunity matters within the unit.”