Equal opportunity advisers host course to prevent discrimination

Story and Photo by Sgt. Ryan Twist
139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Public Affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Soldiers worked with one another to better understand discrimination, in the Equal Opportunity Leaders Course Nov. 14 through Nov. 20 at Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center east at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

“The Equal Opportunity Leaders Course is taught so Soldiers will understand that they are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Sgt. 1st Class Johnnie M. Mitchell, equal opportunity adviser with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) out of Fort Hood, Texas. “Everyone is equal regardless of race, color, gender, nation origin or religion.”

Mitchell, a Sylvania, Ga., native, said she wants Soldiers to learn more about themselves and existing issues that may go unnoticed. She said effective equal opportunity leaders are the eyes and ears of commanders, recognizing overt and covert forms of discrimination.

She said she also wants Soldiers to gain a better understanding of the program and prove its effectiveness.

Course instructors use real-life scenarios in the classroom, Mitchell said.

“The exercises that were demonstrated today are depicted as life; these are actual scenarios in the real world,” she said. “Having the Soldiers become someone of a different ethnic background helps them to understand who people really are. It helps to eliminate stereotypes and perceptions.”

Mitchell said instructors use exercises which relate to lower, middle and upper-class society. She said the exercises depict discrimination and power, to make Soldiers decide if they will settle for what life gives them or try to achieve more, regardless of societal influences.

“We also did an exercise teaching the Soldiers about life and how different ethnic groups are afforded more opportunities than some,” said Mitchell. “We wanted (to) let the Soldiers know that the playing field is not always level. We also ask them what they could do to try and make a change.”

Mitchell said the class acted out a scenario in which the instructors put tape on the floor in the shape of a boat and asked the Soldiers to sit inside. They then voted on who to kick out of the boat, based on characteristics contained on each person’s note card. She said the exercise is a tool the EO office uses to help Soldiers understand not to judge people by their external characteristics.

“Sometimes, we as leaders are quick to judge without knowing the whole story,” said Mitchell. “To be (an) effective EOL, you must know the entire story before you judge a person’s situation.”

Sgt. 1st Class William E. Brown, the training noncommissioned officer with the 90th Sustainment Brigade out of Little Rock, Ark., and a Tucson, Ariz., native, said the class helped him realize that problems exist that need to be fixed. He said he plans to establish a successful EO program because situations can arise at any time. He also said the course helped him understand he needs to be an effective listener and taught him what tools are available to him.

“(It has) given me a better understanding of the hard work that is required to deal with the area of equal opportunity, and the knowledge to succeed,” Brown said.

Mitchell said she encourages all Soldiers in a leadership position to attend.

“I use the tools to be an effective EOA every day, teaching, mentoring and educating Soldiers,” she said. “The goal is to graduate successfully effective EOLs, so they can go out and be the eyes and ears for the commander and (provide) him (or) her with any EO indicators that they as EOLs may notice.”


news photo
Soldiers at the Equal Opportunity Leaders Course, which ran Nov. 14 though Nov. 21, raise their hands to vote another Soldier off of the boat, during a scenario at Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center east at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. The Soldiers were given real-life scenarios to help them understand the prevalence of discrimination.