Fort Bragg Community
Women in Leadership- Tribute to Women’s History Month
Story by MAJ Gary Loten-Beckford on 03/11/2019
FORT BRAGG, N.C. March is the opening season for spring. Spring denotes the closure of winter and March renders fresh ideas of rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection and regrowth.
As of March 1987 the U.S. Congress passed Public Law 100-9, thereby recognizing March as Women’s History Month. The U.S. Army and the surrounding town of Fayetteville take an active role in celebrating Women’s History Month. This celebration is highlighted by well-deserved promotions, prestigious assignments and key roles of leadership and responsibility not previously held by women.
In 1997, the Army promoted the first female three-star general. Lt. Gen (ret.) Claudia Kennedy was a military intelligence officer. Kennedy was appointed as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. Over the span of her 31 years of military service and exceptional contribution to military intelligence, Kennedy was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.
The Army promoted the first female four-star general, Gen. Ann Elizabeth Dunwoody, in 2008. Dunwoody’s many firsts include: the first woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division in 1992, Fort Bragg’s first female general officer in 2000 and the first woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Virginia in 2004.
Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, native of Tompkinsville, Ky., an accomplished leader, with 28 years of service, served as the first female brigade command sergeant major for the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade from 2011-2015. During her tenure Lyon deployed to Kosovo and served as the Multinational Battlegroup-East senior enlisted advisor for Kosovo Force 17. Lyon later served as the Command Sergeant Major for U.S. Army Europe. She currently serves as the senior enlisted advisor for U.S. Army Cyber Command in Fort Belvoir, Va.
“Being a leader of Soldiers is my most rewarding experience; coaching, teaching and mentoring,” said Lyon. “Being able to observe young Soldiers grow and mature when afforded opportunities that challenged them to be and do their very best,” added Lyon.
Rewards in leadership for anyone come with certain challenges. Command Sgt. Maj. Lyon discusses what challenges mean to her.
“I consider challenges to be opportunities, opportunities to prove myself, one of the biggest challenges is being able to be heard in a roomful of males without having to jump up and down on a desk or sounding shrill,” said Lyon.
As a military leader, particularly a female leader, there is major contributor who renders strength and encouragement. Command Sgt. Maj. Lyon has a special person who influences her.
Lyon says her daughter is her greatest influence. Command Sgt. Maj. Lyon goes on to say, “being in the Army challenges you at every level, being successful at all levels to provide a positive influence on my own daughter was very important to me.” Lyon further states, “there were also a number of noncommissioned officers who influenced me along the way positively (those who I wanted to emulate) and negatively (those I did not want to be like), I was fortunate to have noncommissioned officers that were willing to answer questions and promote Soldiers and their abilities. Some of those noncommissioned officers were with the 525th MI BDE in the beginning of my career.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Lyon remembers the most significant event in her career. This is when the Army opened all branches to female Soldiers. Lyon can recall from the early years of being told that she could not attend Ranger school, when she asked why, the response was “because you’re a woman.” Command Sgt. Maj. Lyon is all about opportunities and there should not be restrictions or limitations placed due to gender.
Lyon was asked, “If you were to leave the Army tomorrow what would you hope your legacy or influence from military service be?” As a true leader would say, “I hope that I have helped in some small way to enable our Army to be capabilities driven, not based upon gender, race, age, color, religion or sexual orientation, but solely on capability,” said Lyon.
The city of Fayetteville appointed its first female police chief in 2017. Chief Gina V. Hawkins is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and Georgia State University. Hawkins assumed her post as police chief with a wealth of experience in law enforcement; she entered law enforcement with the Atlanta Police Department in September 1988. She worked various divisions with the Atlanta Police Department including patrol, crime analysis, investigations and internal affairs. Hawkins later retired from the Atlanta Police Department in 2006 as an Assistant Zone Commander.
“When you enjoy what it is you do it’s not work, it becomes your purpose,” said Hawkins. “I love the problem-solving aspect of what I do, my biggest mentor would be my faith in God,” added Hawkins.
Chief Hawkins in her capacity links bridges of communication between officers of her department and special divisions to the local community. She understands the importance leader engagements with business owners, local officials and residents alike for community outreach enhancement.
“My most rewarding experience as a female leader is seeing people I lead and supervise grow (both internally and externally), seeing people overcome obstacles and challenges that brings me a lot of joy,” said Hawkins. “The most challenging experience was trying to figure out my holistic “work-life balance,” my family has always been inclusive in my life. My profession, my life, who I am is everything that I do and I’ve incorporated it in all I do,” added Hawkins.
It should be noted that Chief Hawkins entered the position as one of four female police chiefs in the Triangle Area- Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis and Morrisville Police Chief Patrice Andrews.
The 525th Military Intelligence Brigade is composed of women in leadership key leadership. There are commanders, first sergeants, platoon leaders and staff officers within the ranks. These leaders plan, prepare and resource training for contingency and world wide deployment operations.
Capt. Jessica Masters is a native of Des Moines, Iowa, commander of Alpha Company, 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, 525th Military Intelligence Brigade. Masters has been in the Army for 13 years as a military intelligence officer.
“My most rewarding experience is serving as a company commander and biggest challenge centers on the impact of toxic leaders who continue to permeate various positions of authority and influence within the military,” said Masters. “Such personnel put lack of faith in the overall organization and cause Soldiers to question military culture and values.”
Masters commands her company as an even keeled, methodical and conscientious leader. She is ever mindful of maintaining readiness, training and ensuring her Soldiers are effectively trained within their warfighting missions. In the midst of providing leadership and mentorship there are two major influencers in her life who guide her decisions.
“I have two main influences that guide my decisions, first is God as His teachings directly apply to how leaders must act nonjudgmental, continually seek wisdom, and serve as a positive example to others and my husband (Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Masters) is the second biggest influence as a military leader, he provides support, candid advice and is an excellent example of how leaders effectively interact with Soldiers, families and the community as a whole,” said Masters. Both influences have guided Masters through difficult times and continually push her to be the best leader for her Soldiers and unit as a whole.
The 525th Military Intelligence Brigade and Expeditionary Force conduct multidiscipline intelligence operations in support of echelons corps and below, providing downward reinforcing capabilities to the Division, Brigade Combat Teams and other formations. The Brigade and Battalion Headquarters are designed to receive, integrate, employ and sustain intelligence enterprise capabilities in support of Corps, Division and Joint Task Force Commanders.