CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – The 36th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), 36th Infantry Division, Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), currently deployed as “Task Force Mustang,” appreciated and recognized 16 of its Soldiers for completing the Equal Opportunity Leaders Course (EOLC) on Oct. 14.
The Soldiers were appointed to serve as Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs) within their first month in theater as part of Task Force Mustang’s mission to provide full-spectrum Army aviation operations for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) in the Middle East.
The Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) Program commonly defines a comprehensive effort to maximize human potential and fair treatment for all Soldiers, family members, and DA civilians without regard to race, color, sex (to include gender identity), religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. Task Force Mustang’s EOLs are taking on the additional duty to promote safe and inclusive work environments, and help resolve informal complaints regarding any perceived unlawful discrimination and offensive behaviors in its ranks.
U.S. Army Col. Scott P. Nicholas, commander of Task Force Mustang, expressed his appreciation for the EOLs and how they will support daily operations.
“Regardless of location, number of locations, or type of duty orders our Soldiers receive, every Army aviation unit makes promoting the Army Values a top priority in every workplace, and it starts with training,” said Nicholas. “Task Force Mustang now has an EO program that will deliver that training and amplify awareness, so that our teams remain mission-focused on supporting our partnered forces in the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
Leading the 16 EOLs for Task Force Mustang is U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mildred A. Restrepo, retention NCO and EO leader for the aviation brigade’s command team. She hosted the EOLC and assisted MEO advisors with certifying the Soldiers’ additional duty.
“It’s great to serve as the EOL for Task Force Mustang,” said Restrepo. “It is a privilege to get to serve as the eyes and ears for the brigade commander, and it is most rewarding when our Soldiers and leaders can resolve potential EO complaints at the lowest level.”
Restrepo is a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, previously serving as the S-1 non-commissioned officer in-charge for the 11th CAB “Task Force Eagle” before the 36th CAB took over their mission last summer. In her civilian career back home, she serves as a police officer for the NYPD.
“I knew I was going to stay for a second tour overseas, but I knew I was not going to be able to keep my same duty in human resources,” she said. “Task Force Mustang saw a benefit to having me serve in their EO office at the time, so it worked out where I could stay and help strengthen the brigade’s EO network.”
Restrepo noted that her EOL training allows her to provide input to the commander with regards to informal complaints.
“Our EOLs are here to serve as resources to all Soldiers, and are ready to take anonymous or informal complaints, while certified MEO Advisors can directly facilitate formal complaints,” she added. “All Soldiers have the right to choose their type of complaint reports, and our EOLs are always there to educate them about their options, as well as support workplace condition checks for their respective unit leaders.”
Numbers in EO complaints easily vary based on mission and deployment durations.
“The highest number of informal complaints we’ve received has been four within a given week, and there have been a couple weeks where we’ve received no complaints at all, which is great,” Restrepo shared. “There have also been instances where a Soldier’s complaint was potentially turning into a formal one, but the Soldier was able to get it resolved with their immediate supervisor, thanks to the unit leader’s attention and the EOL involved.”
U.S. Army Master Sgt. Acie Matthews, operations NCO and MEO Advisor for CJTF-OIR, serves as the coordinator of all EO programs assigned across OIR’s Combined/Joint Operations Area (CJOA).
“EOLs are selected and trusted by their commanders to keep a pulse on the climate and culture of their units,” Matthews stated. “Our goal for EOLs is to have them be an extension of their commander’s ear to the unit and be a voice of the unit to the commander and other leaders. When not dealing with informal complaints, EOLs are tagged with executing their primary military duties, and that varies greatly across the team.”
Matthews brings to CJTF-OIR several years of EO experience, both stateside and overseas.
“Being an MEO Advisor is a very rewarding and humbling position. People are our most valuable resource, so providing support for their rights to be treated with dignity and respect is an absolute honor,” said Matthews. “Prior to this deployment, I served as the Minnesota National Guard State MEO Advisor, and I enjoyed supporting the Soldiers and Airmen during that time.”
He remarked how well Task Force Mustang was heading in the right direction for their EO program.
“Task Force Mustang is unique in that its responsibilities spread across multiple locations, in multiple countries, across the CJOA. Maintaining consistent messaging across such a vast area is challenging,” he added. “However, EOLs across Task Force Mustang are fired up and excited about the opportunity to support their respective commanders’ missions. While deployed, Soldiers are subject to U.S. Army regulations and reporting procedures, which differ slightly from National Guard Bureau’s processes. However, with dignity and respect being the drumbeat, these EOLs are seamlessly integrating the Title 10 rules into their battle rhythms.”
Restrepo couldn’t agree more with Matthews over the importance of their EO teams serving as a support channel to Soldiers.
“Towards the end of a deployment, it’s very common to see an increase in concerns and complaints,” Restrepo shared. “Everything is a fresh start at the beginning of a year-long mission. But, when daily routines change or several things do not go as planned throughout the mission—quality of life changes, resource reductions, Soldiers not talking to other Soldiers, leadership engagements perceived as less common, or Soldiers not letting go over their cultural differences or holding onto their complaints for months—all these things can affect discipline and unit morale. So, our EOLs will prove vital to safeguarding the professionalism and respect between Soldiers and their chain of command.”
To achieve MEO requirements, Restrepo says EO awareness classes will be completed by all Task Force Mustang Soldiers within the next month, and that 15 more Soldiers will complete the EOLC before the start of the new year. Task Force Mustang will have had every company level to brigade level leadership fully supported by EOLs for the rest of its deployment.
“And that’s what we want,” Restrepo concluded. “We want all unit leaders to be able to communicate with their Soldiers about any inequality concerns and have them resolve potential issues at the lowest level possible. EO complaints can happen anytime, but our EOLs will always be there to assist in maintaining a safe and welcoming work environment for everyone until mission complete.”