CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- After Sgt. 1st Class Denise Pemberton noticed a female Soldier who just arrived to Japan in her unit’s formation Tuesday, she quickly invited her to a women’s mentorship forum that afternoon.
The “Excel to Elevate” forums, held monthly by enlisted and commissioned leaders in the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, look to strengthen the unit’s nearly 150-strong female population, which is the largest in any unit here.
“That’s what we want to do,” said Pemberton, one of the organizers. “We’re reaching out. We’re keeping our eyes and ears open, because it’s up to us to really take care of one another.”
With such a large footprint of women coming overseas, many of whom for the first time, the battalion began the forums in September to continually provide direction to them as well as others in the unit.
Organizers hope they can help participants “excel” in life and their careers, so they can “elevate” in the ranks and become leaders themselves.
“We all dress alike, but there are so many huge differences on the inside,” Pemberton said. “The Army brings us together and now we want to know, ‘how can we help you?’”
The forums, which have discussed a variety of topics from mental health to career progression, also embody the Army’s “This Is My Squad” initiative.
Created by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston, the goal of TIMS is to build cohesive teams by empowering first-line leaders, holding them accountable and encouraging them to learn more about their teammates.
In a further move to form closer units, Grinston said in February the Army would hold its first Best Squad Competition this fall.
“I want units to really think about what makes up a squad,” Grinston said in the announcement. “‘This Is My Squad’ isn’t just about the traditional infantry squad. It’s about those small groups of Soldiers who really know and care about each other and hold each other to a high standard of proficiency, discipline and fitness.”
In the women forums, organizers welcome participants to a relaxed, elegant setting with food and fresh flowers on each table inside the Camp Zama Community Club.
Pemberton said the environment helps foster camaraderie away from the office, where participants can talk freely about any topic that is constructive.
“We want you to grow, to learn and we want you to know that we care about you,” she said. “And if you ever have any issues, although you are an adult and you can handle it, we just want to be there with you.”
Staff Sgt. Anisha Johnson recently moved to Japan, and Pemberton invited her to Tuesday’s forum.
Johnson, who came from Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and is assigned to the battalion, wanted to see how she could advance in her career as well as learn how to be a better role model.
“I really don’t have a mentor, but they could be sitting right beside me,” she said at the event.
Johnson, who would like one day to become a warrant officer, said she often receives inspiration from other women leaders.
“It just shows women you are capable of doing anything. You are capable of leading Soldiers — men and women,” she said of them. “So I think it is important that women are in those roles.”
While the forums were initially meant for 35th CSSB Soldiers, Pemberton said female Soldiers from other units can also attend.
Pemberton arranges the events with a group of organizers, which include Capts. Houda Ouardi and Nikki McWilliams, Staff Sgt. Tiffany Wilson, and Sgt. Alexis Mills.
The team holds fundraisers and some participants even donate their own money to keep the forums going. While the next forum has not yet been finalized, the group plans to soon discuss how to succeed in the Army Combat Fitness Test, Pemberton said.
With women now allowed to serve in every Army career field, including the combat arms, Pemberton said barriers that previously blocked women are no longer there.
“When those women broke through as infantry, it said a lot,” she said. “That said, ‘I can do it and I don’t need to be held or coddled or pushed by anyone. I can work hard and I can do it, too.’
“Today, the sky is the limit. If you can do it, let’s go and see.”