Major Addy Stevens
Major Addy Stevens
Leslie Swedish of the Moxxi Women’s Foundation spoke with Major Addy Stevens, who’s been at a small base in Germany, called Hohenfelds, since the end of 2014.
Not a lot of people even in the military even know about it so it's kind of like a little hidden gem. It’s a nice area though. My husband and I have been able to work some unique situations out with our work and how we balance the Army with contracting and different employment opportunities. I think just based on our family situation we’re probably going to try and stay out here for around another five years and make it work. We love the area and feel it's really nice. Our kids get German and are learning a different language growing up, and there's just a lot of perks on the outside of the house for them.
I have been in the Army for about 21 years all together, with some breaks in service, joining in 2001 when I was 17, when my mom had to sign my paperwork to agree for me to get into the military. My mom only agreed to do this because we weren’t at War, there wasn’t anything going on,” so she wasn’t too concerned about me joining. I wanted to join for the college benefits at the time, and did a program called Split Option where I went to Basic Training in between my Junior and Senior years of high school, finished my senior year of high school like normal, then graduated and went to my job training. Originally, I was in the National Guard, so I
was active duty right away and started college. Then my unit, I-Bar Unit, actually got mobilized because 9/11 happened my senior year of high school. It was a really unique time to actually begin my military career, seeing the difference and the change of pre-war and going to basic training and then afterwards going to my job training and my unit being mobilized. 9/11 happened and I had already signed on the dotted line. I had a lot of questions because I was still young. I had no idea. Being in the National Guard you only interact with your unit once a month. Back then texting and phones were not as common, so it wasn't something as easy as being able to just reach out to my unit to figure out what was going on. There were a lot of questions not only with me but with everybody in the unit, especially the younger people who were in college or whatnot. It was just kind of confusing. I'm like, “Oh no what do we do? Are we getting activated? Are we going to deploy? What's happening?” It was just kind of a little bit of a time of uncertainty. Being in the military and going through it was it was also kind of intriguing in a way because it really meant something was moving and it was going to impact us.”
Is your husband also in the military?
My husband was also in the military. He served for about five or six years, which is not very long, and then he decided to get out. He’s been over in Germany for quite a while, and we met in Germany when I moved over.
Where are some of the other places that you've been posted?
With my military career it's interesting. Within the Army we have three different components. You have Active Duty, you have National Guard, and Reserves. Originally, I was with Colorado National Guard. After 9/11 happened I went through my job training. Then I was actually certified to do my job and we got activated to my first Duty Station, Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I got to leave the mobilization early and went to University of Colorado - Boulder for four years on an ROTC scholarship, so that was that was great. I was able to do all my schooling and I kind of took a break from the military, from the National Guard Reserves, just to focus on college and just do ROTC. After I graduated, I commissioned into the Officer Corps and for the first year I moved around a lot because they had us doing a lot of training. I was in Washington, Georgia, Arizona. My first true Duty Station was Fort Hood, Texas where I was in a heavy brigade with a lot more focus on tanks and heavy equipment like big artillery stuff. I deployed with this group from Fort Hood to Iraq in 2008 for a year. Upon returning I did some schooling in Arizona, and then went on to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii for an aviation brigade. I found learning all about Army aviation really fun and went with them to Afghanistan for a year in 2012 to 2013. Upon returning, I had the opportunity to take command of a company of 175 soldiers in Hawaii, and that was really really truly an amazing experience. Following that is when I came out to Germany, where I’ve been ever since.
Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan?
What it was like to be female in the military in what to me seemed like very strange lands It definitely is different environments. The whole thing around deploying is difficult. It was difficult for everybody. For me my first unit had very different experiences from my first deployment to my second deployment. My first deployment, the unit was much more male dominated, male mentality, not very disciplined, not very professional. Me being a new lieutenant it was a lot to learn - how to be tactful and how to deal with people that were inappropriate or rude. I had a really good 35 NCO female, which is an enlisted side of the house, there's enlisted and officer sides, and she was awesome. She really helped guide me a little bit to be able to know how to handle some of the situations a little bit better. It was interesting. There were different dynamics that were happening. You had the dynamics of men not being around a lot of women often, a lot of gossip, a lot of talk, everybody was always trying to be in everyone’s business. I couldn’t go and have lunch with a male colleague without it being assumed that we were sleeping together. You really had to look at who you were hanging out with. There were dudes writing profanity or different things on the porta johns and stuff like that. The other dynamic too that’s not often talked about is the female dynamic, which was sometimes difficult. When you’re in environments like that it can be challenging in the sense that you’re not only working to get your job done, be professional, but you have challenges of all these outside influences of being away from home, being away from family normalcy. People just act a little bit different and crazy. I had a hard time, struggling more with working with other women in the military at that time because there was some jealousy. There was gossip. There were a lot of dynamics that I wasn't used to dealing with. For a while in college, I didn't deal with it. I always had great women around me that we got along. In that one I really learned a lot more about perceptions and how people perceive you and how for me it was important to be open and honest and approachable and also be able to approach other people, not only the male population. The female population was more limited, but it was still really hurtful at times. I feel as women especially in the military and you're in units that don't have a lot of women you should be working together and supporting each other and posting each other you know instead of trying to cut each other down or talk behind each other's back or things to this nature. It was an interesting dynamic in my first one. My second one in the aviation brigade was a lot better. In the aviation arena there's a lot more females that are integrated as pilots and in their organizations, so it wasn't as cutthroat as it felt with my first deployment. It was a lot more professional. There was not a lot of degrading of women or anything to that nature, so it was really interesting for me. It was kind of a night and day deployment experience, and it was just based off the organization and the people within the organization.
I imagine. I tend to pay attention to things like masculine energy and feminine energy and things like that. I can imagine that it would be difficult for women to relate to each other really well if they have to lean so heavily into their masculine energy. It almost seems like that's just not conducive for good female bonding so I can see how that would happen. But it's really too bad. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the trials and tribulations of being female in such a male dominated I don't want to say industry because it's more of a culture than anything? Aside from you know pornographic writings on johns.
I will say that the Army, specifically in my perspective, has really grown a lot over the last several decades. When I first came in, I did have some NCOs that were way too profound or using profanity, sexually harassing me, and felt comfortable and okay with it which was not okay. Luckily, I had the confidence enough to cut it down and to stop it and to tell them that I didn't appreciate that, and it wasn't okay. But that wasn't always the case for a lot of girls. It makes it tough because especially when you're younger you don't quite know. Especially if you're enlisted versus officer and you don't think that you have the ability to say something because you're a different paygrade or rank. It's unfortunate that sometimes there's been situations that were uncomfortable or just went too far or something like that. I think the thing I've had the ability to confront people to bring up any issues and that's just who I am. I've seen a huge transition and a huge growth which is really good. When I was younger it was definitely very obvious to me that it was harder to be a woman definitely in the Army. In my first unit I definitely experienced a lot of hardships with that and just growth. I think recently though there's different things that come out that we see in social media and the news and stuff of some of the changes. When we're looking at the change within the Army it is happening in the sense of being able to be more open not only for women but for everybody and being able to have it be more of a normalcy. I remember it was crazy to me that there has always been women in combat arms branches and it just wasn't formalized necessarily and so when it got formalized there was a lot of talk. I'm like, “Oh my gosh, what are these women doing in these branches?” Or the few females that went through Ranger school and we're passing and everything else and there was a lot of hardship about that, and I was just like “Are you kidding me? This is crazy. You work with women every day. You have women in your unit in multiple capacities.” Some of those things are just a little mind-blowing. But it's a cultural shift, it's a cultural change within the Army organization itself but it's happening and that's what's good. It's not weird to have in my experience and where I've been it's not weird to have women in leadership roles, to have women being in charge, to have an environment where you can feel comfortable working. That is something that I think is really good and has been a great improvement over the last several decades from my perspective and where I work and what I do.
What is it that you do? What is your job?
I was talking about the three components. I was National Guard before Reserve and then I was active duty from 2007 to 2017, and then I went into the Reserves. That's how I've been able to stay over in Germany so long. I've been in the Reserves and then I was also contracting for DoD. With the Reserve I'm an instructor and I teach other Majors. They call it professional military education, so it's schooling that we all go through to be able to get promoted to the next rank and that's what I do on a regular basis. Currently with that I still fall under my Reserve unit but I'm on active duty orders for a year. It's a year-to-year extension and I can extend it if I want. On my active duty side I'm in charge of a small team and we work at JMRC in Helen Fells. We help liaison Reserve National Guard units to come over and support the active duty units for our training exercises. It's interesting. I've been learning a lot. A funny thing, talking about women in the military, JMRC’s permanent party people are pretty small. It's not a large base, it's not something like Fort Hood or even like Schofield Barracks in Hawaii or anything. It's pretty small and I think that I am one of the first female leaders that have been at the organization, I don't know if ever, but definitely at least within the last eight years. Which is a little mind-blowing because I don't think that's the norm for most of the military. Because we are such a small niche organization, for some reason there just has not been a lot of women that have been pulled into work and to come to JMRC. When I came into my position I was like, “I think I'm the first female leader that';s been at JMRC. This is crazy.” So there's still areas for development.
Can you talk a little bit about what it's like being a mom in the military? It’s hard. There's no getting around it. I have had a few leaders that I've worked with in the past that had dual military. My leader and their spouse were both in the military raising kids and I don't know how they did it.
Unfortunately that is a little bit of a difficult portion of the military and being in the Army. I made the choice to get out of active duty because on the active duty track do you have some say into where you go but you really don't have full control of your life, of where you want to be. Joining the Reserves really allowed me to have that control. That's when I met my husband. I was supposed to be leaving a few years after I met him if I would have stayed on active duty. I knew I wanted kids; I knew I wanted to have a family and that just wasn't really going to be something feasible for me. Getting out and then going into contracting has been kind of similar except it's more of a nine to five job, it's a little bit more predictable. It was tough contracting, doing Reserves and being a mom of two and being a wife and doing all that stuff. It definitely is quite a bit to take on. It's a lot of multitasking, a lot of figuring it out, but it's feasible. It's been working out okay, but it's definitely challenging to have so many hats to wear. Being a mom is challenging no matter what, working mothers, stay-at-home moms. I can't even imagine having that extra military element is any easier, but I think it depends what kind of unit you're in. Luckily for me where I'm at now and what I'm doing now it's a little bit more predictable. I don't have to worry about deployments or leaving to go anywhere for nine months or something like that and leaving the family. What's been really nice is that there are different paths that you can take and manage throughout the Army that I've actually been able to do which has been helpful. I think that if I didn't ask the questions and I didn' look into it more I wouldn't have known and that would have made it a lot harder.
The organization that's higher than us that we work with regularly has three women in the office. The office that I'm in currently were all male and I think there was a lot of contention and difficulties in communication. My perspective when I came in was much more of a let's work together, let's figure this out type of perspective. I think that that's been very beneficial I see contention happening with the male/female dynamics of communicating and talking to each other. That's been something that's been really valuable. The other thing too is just being friendly and being able to work with people well. Sometimes men don't always have the ability to have an aura about them I guess of that friendliness or because sometimes it's perceived a little weird or different or something. I think for me just being able to talk to people and being able to have the professionalism but also have the friendliness about me has been really beneficial with building relationships and being able to help grow different areas of business for my current position and my past position. I still worked out at Helen Fells just as a contractor so I've been in the same organization for a while. I think those would be the key areas I think as a woman and an officer and a leader that really helped. When I first came to Helen Fells I had tried to set up a program for women. There was a time when there was a little bit more focus on trying to have groups for women to be able to get together to have panels, to be able to talk and to figure out how to integrate or how work with male dominant areas. When I first came we tried to get a program established and it was a little bit difficult to get moving. Now that I'm back in a leadership position on active duty there's been a few other women that have reached out to me with interest of looking at doing something similar. I think it's something worthwhile to pursue and not only for women but for everybody that doesn't identify to be just a normal stereotypical male person in the military or what you perceive as “Oh yeah that's a military person, you got to be this way and whatnot,” and just really opening it up for everybody to be able to have a venue to outside of the organization but that's still professional to provide mentorship. The good thing about that would be we'd be able to pull in a lot of lower enlisted people that are in an organization that is predominantly male populated but that’s a future direction that I think we might be looking at again to see if it works.
In Bavaria they have special terms and words that they don't necessarily have in Northern Germany, so it's kind of fun to poke fun at or laugh at ourselves too. Over here the festivals, the Christmas Market, the things that they do community-wide are really really fun and fun to be a part of. From a family perspective, I absolutely love having my kids in the German schools. They're young they're in basically a nursery equivalent and a Pre K equivalent so they go all day. Originally when I was pregnant that was one of my concerns. I was like, “I don't know what I'm gonna do.” I was a contractor so I couldn't get them cared for on post because we were last priority, and we could be bumped if there were too many active duty people that came on. So that wasn't a very a good solid plan to be able to have our kids in care. I figured out how to get them on the German system and I figured out that they have all- day care available, but just most of the Germans don't need it because they actually have benefits to help them for the first two years so that one of the parents can stay at home and help take care of the kids. All my friends that were German had no idea that there was any kind of services available for all-day care. I put my son in starting at four months and my daughter at six months. That was interesting because I just figured that out on my own doing research and trying to see how we were going to manage having a life here and being able to work full-time. But it worked out so that was really good. That's one of the benefits or one of the reasons that motivates me to stay around longer here because they go to the nursery and pre-K all day, they, get German, it's a structured day. From a mom perspective I feel okay with having them in care all day while we work. My husband and I both work full-time so for me it's nice to know and it's affordable.
Are there citizen options for you and if there are would you consider it? There are but no I wouldn't. I want to try and stay affiliated with the US and honestly I've built my career with the military, with the Army. I really don't see me getting out of the Army anytime soon. Your time changes and shifts when you're looking at retirement. If you're on active duty you can spend 20 years active duty, be done and then start receiving your retirement already. If I would have stayed active duty the whole time, I could have been done at 37. I would have already retired with one career and then gone on to a different career. I enjoy teaching and instructing, what I do with the Reserves. Figuring out what I've been able to do with taking control over how my life is within the military has been something that's really unique that I don't know if a lot of people know those options. It takes a little bit of asking and talking and figuring it out. I've been able to provide educational care to my kids, pass it on to them and then working towards a retirement. I've enjoyed the military, I don't mind it, but I will look forward to the time when I have completed it and I don't have this extra kind of job that I'm doing outside of my normal work that I want to do. I wouldn't look at leaving the US or switching citizenships or anything like that and becoming a German National. I'm not gonna jump ship.
If you were to give any advice to any young woman who is looking to start a military career what's the best advice that you could give them?
I think it would be to find a mentor. When you get in look for a mentor. Look for a woman, or even a man. Honestly I think moving towards a woman mentor that's older than you, that has the experience is so valuable coming into the military because there's a lot of challenges that
you go through and that it's not always so easy when you don't have a life experience or you don't have the experience within the military. Having somebody else to talk to and to lean on and to be able to get perspective from is very invaluable and would help tremendously not only for personal issues but also for professional advice. There’s some branches and some areas that you can go into that are a little bit more filled with women versus others. Hopefully that's changing because a few years ago they opened up all the branches to allow women into them and stuff like that. I foresee that adjusting quite a bit in the future. It will take a little bit of time but I think that would be my advice, to look for a good strong female mentor as you come in to help you through it.
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