Schofield Barracks/Wheeler Army Airfield Community
Army Reserve Soldier’s personal contribution to women’s history
Story by SSG David Overson on 03/21/2019
Fort Shafter Flats, HI Women’s History Month is a time to reflect and recognize the impact and contributions women have given to America’s great history. For one Army Reserve Soldier with the 9th Mission Support Command, Women’s History Month is a reflection of her 40-year Army career living the Army Values every day.
Sgt. Maj. Norene Tunstall, the acting command sergeant major for the 4960th Multi-Functional Training Brigade, started her illustrious career in 1978 at Fort Jackson, S.C. After nine years of active duty working as a personnel management specialist, the Army Reserve was her next stop where she climbed the ranks and roles often reserved for her male counterparts during a time when there weren’t many females in the Army, let alone ones achieving positions of authority.
“I’ve met people of all types; races, cultures, and backgrounds,” said Tunstall. “I’ve rejoiced and cried with my fellow Soldiers, and Soldiers from other armed services as well that I’ve met from foreign military services. To have served with my military brethren has been a blessing from beginning to end.”
According to GoArmy.Com, today females comprise approximately 17% of the total Army force. That number has slowly increased from the late 1970s when Tunstall started her career where it usually stood fast at approximately 10%.
“I joined very young, so in basic training I guess I expected to be treated a little different than the guys,” added Tunstall. “I was just naive. Well we were treated all the same, and that was hard for me, the yelling, and in your face cussing. I learned very quickly then to adapt to Army training. In the very early years of my Army life, there was not much mentioned about sensitivity training, equal opportunity training, or sexual harassment training, so we had to adapt and speak up for ourselves, and speak up for our Soldiers. You had to be tough, and we traveled in groups. Mostly I handled my hurdles by working hard, volunteering for different assignments to prove to myself that I could handle myself and become integrated into the Army lifestyle.”
In March 1987, U.S. Congress passed Public Law 100-9, which recognized March as Women’s History Month. Coincidentally, this was after Tunstall began her Army career, and though this cannot be confirmed, many believe it was due to Tunstall’s military prowess.
Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy D. Smith, the senior enlisted leader with the 9th MSC’s Theater Support Group, has witnessed Tunstall’s remarkable leadership firsthand for more than 15 years.
“When I mobilized out of Schofield Barracks Sergeant Maj. Tunstall was one of the key leaders who made sure we were taken care of,” said Smith. “You really could tell she sincerely cared about each and every Soldier’s wellbeing.”
Tunstall has spent the lion’s share of her 40-year career in the personnel field ensuring the needs of the individual Soldiers are met. Throughout her journey, she carried her expertise to 13 different units between the active component and the Reserve, to include a deployment to Iraq in 2006.
Tunstall points out that the male versus female role distinctions in today’s Army versus when she first joined are much more similar and less distinct, and the engagements of activities of physical fitness and exercises are now equal across the board.
“When I first came into the Army we had two different physical fitness tests, meaning that some of the physical exercises in the test were not the same,” said Tunstall. “The Army has become more educated on many different levels, from personal growth, family dynamics, and how those can affect the performance of Soldiers.
“They have more programs now to support Soldiers, especially at separation. The level of training and intensity, for instance, less analog and more automation. The modernization of human resources equipment and systems have definitely changed in my field of HR. Since I have joined the Army Reserve from my regular Army days, I’ve had more opportunities to train, travel, volunteer, and get involved in community activities with Reserve sponsored programs.”
Looking at where today’s Army is headed and the trajectory for females in the Army brings eternal joy to the mother of three. Tunstall says she’s happy females are now allowed to perform jobs in the Army that were previously closed and sees nothing but the best for all females interested in combat arms.
“I know that those who have chosen those fields will have their own personal challenges to overcome, and they will need to be physically and mentally prepared,” added Tunstall. “Those women who have already stood the course, and completed the training and now hold those MOS’ [military occupational skill], I’m sure have very well earned them. They have my congratulations, kudos, and full support for future successes. In addition, having females in top ranks of officers like generals and colonels, and the ranks of command sergeants major, and sergeant majors have increased through the years. I’ve seen more women of multi-races holding key positions, and I hope to see one day a woman get selected as Sergeant Major of the Army.”
Though Tunstall’s journey in life and leadership is nowhere near its end, she’ll be retiring April 1, 2019. She says the proudest moment of her life was achieving the rank of sergeant major while raising a family at the same time.
“Sergeant Maj. Tunstall is an old-school leader who brought hard work and dedication to the job every day,” added Smith. “She’ll be missed, but the Army is better off now because of her and other female Soldiers like her.”