Fort McCoy News June 28, 2013

Soldier partnership program empowers female cadets

Public Affairs Staff

Female Soldiers at Fort McCoy are helping to empower and guide at-risk female teens.

The 181st Infantry Brigade and the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy, both located at Fort McCoy, are working to provide additional advisement to female Challenge Academy cadets.

PHOTO 1 for workshop story
Sgt. 1st Class Karen Stokes directs a cadet from the Wisconsin
National Guard Challenge Academy in an activity that demonstrates
reaching the finish/goal line even when life knocks you down. The
activity was part of a Womens Empowerment Workshop.

After participating in an outreach event involving the male Academy cadets and Soldiers from the 181st, Sgt. 1st Class Karen Stokes wanted to do something specifically with the female cadets.

Stokes met with Peter Blum, the Challenge Academy's Agency/Community Liaison, to discuss a partnership and the "Womens Empowerment Workshops" were born.

The first workshop was held in March, with two subsequent workshops held in April and June.

Each workshop has a specific theme. Videos, discussions and activities that support that theme are featured, Stokes said.

During the workshops the Academy cadets break up into groups that are led by Soldier-advisers Staff Sgt. Brittney Pechie, Sgt. 1st Class Larrie Rocha, Sgt. 1st Class Lynne Ostrickischley and Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer King. Stokes, who facilitates and organizes the workshops, said the smaller groups allow the cadets to form trust and a bond with the Soldiers.

Stokes, who has more than 19 years of Army experience, is a Master Resiliency Trainer and a former drill instructor. She said the cadets are like new privates in basic training, and "it's about teaching them about transitioning to different phases in their lives."

Financial matters, life priorities, personal pride, future goals, respecting others, and building self-esteem are among the topics discussed.

PHOTO 2 for workshop story
Sgt. 1st Class Larrie Rocha gives a Wisconsin National Guard
Challenge Academy cadet a new hairstyle before her graduation
from the Academy June 14. Soldiers from the 181st Infantry Brigade
surprised the cadets with hair and makeup makeovers as part of the
Womens Empowerment Workshops.

Sarah Mullenberg, a Challenge Academy counselor, said the workshops reinforce concepts that are talked about during the Challenge Academy's Character Development classes including The Golden Rule, paying it forward and respect.

To build self-esteem, one of the activities involved learning to walk with confidence.

"Each female walked down a runway-type area," Stokes said. "At first they were shy and walking with their head down, but we showed them to walk with confidence, hold their head up, and keep their eye on their goal."

Another activity geared toward self-esteem, as well as mutual respect, involved sharing their talents and discovering those of their peers.

"They want and need positive dialogue with positive role models," Stokes said. "They need to learn to be proud of who they are but also understand everyone has had problems in life."

Mullenberg said the biggest challenge for the female cadets is having self-respect and positive self-esteem.

"The girls (female cadets) struggle with trying to figure out who they are in relation to where they want to go in life," Mullenberg said. "The (Soldiers) are great role models who demonstrate that with determination and self-respect you can accomplish anything."

Stokes said the Soldiers try to relate to the cadets by sharing their own personal struggles. It helps build trust and helps them realize that regardless of the obstacles in front of them they can overcome them.

"Being a Soldier impacts the cadets because it shows them that we have gone through hardships, too, like physical training, deployments, and leaving our Families," Stokes said.

Arnelle Adams, a Challenge Academy cadet, said her favorite aspect of the workshops was hearing about the personal stories and experiences of the Soldiers and how they overcame obstacles.

"They motivate me, and I learned about resiliency from them," she said.

Pechie said she can see that the cadets want to better themselves.

"It's a big step to go to the academy; it shows they want to be better," she said. "They try so hard, and I have seen such a difference in them."

Rocha uses her experience as a mother of two daughters to break barriers with the cadets.

They are intrigued by what it's like to be a woman in the Army, Rocha said. They are interested in the working relationships between men and women in the military and seek advice on how to get along with other females.

Rocha said she is almost certain one of the cadets, who has displayed natural leadership abilities, will join the military.

The experience is emotional Rocha said, "My heart goes out to them; they are asking for help, they want to fix things."

Outside of the two- to three-hour long workshops, the Soldiers eat lunch with the cadets, do physical training with them and write to them.

"We're constantly checking up on them. It gives them hope and shows them that people care about them," Stokes said.

The Soldier-advisers bring a different perspective to the cadets, Stokes said. They provide a different experience than their Challenge Academy team leaders.

"The team leaders are like drill sergeants to them," Stokes said. "With the Soldiers they can relax a little bit more and talk more openly."

King, who says she is a naturally silly person, uses humor to make the cadets feel comfortable and get through to them.

"I want to share my knowledge and wisdom with them," she said. "I want to give them the best advice I have to offer and give them hope."

Mullenberg said, "The cadets became more motivated and encouraged knowing that the advice is coming from such successful, independent, and strong women."

Cadet Lolita Thomas said the Soldiers were very uplifting. She said they were honest and direct and taught her to be the same way.

Cadet Zoe Teletzke said the Soldiers always brightened the mood of the cadets. "No matter how down we were they always made our mood go up," she said.

Col. Eric Angeli, the 181st Infantry Brigade commander, has been very supportive of his female Soldiers' involvement with the Challenge Academy, Stokes said.

He encourages any Soldier in the 181st, and its subordinate units at Fort McCoy, to participate as advisers to the youth at the Challenge Academy, she said.

Soldiers from the 181st wanting to participate must contact Stokes who will coordinate with the Academy.

Soldiers not with the 181st, military dependents, or Fort McCoy civilian employees who are interested in assisting Challenge Academy cadets can contact Blum at for details regarding how they can help.

Womens Empowerment Workshops are scheduled to continue with the next cycle of female Academy cadets. Mullenberg and Stokes both said they hope to begin the workshops earlier in the cycle and hold them more often.

Over the past few months the cadets have grown, developed and matured, Stokes said.

"It's exciting to work with them. We are helping to build a good foundation for them before they leave the Academy."