Kabul, Afghanistan — U.S. Army Sergeant Major Donna King has taken on a role as mentor to the first Afghan National Police female graduate from the Kabul Military Training Center’s sergeants major academy, Sergeant Major Maryam Tabish.
King, an operations sergeant major with NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan, met Tabish at her graduation ceremony December 12. The two spoke briefly and took a few photos together and from there began not only an enduring peer mentorship but also a friendship.
“At our first meeting, she and I discussed several topics, and we bonded instantly,” said King. “Despite the vast cultural, behavioral and lingual differences, we found that we are very similar in many ways. I made myself available for her, and she gladly accepted me as her mentor.”
The pair discussed everything from career to family and discovered that, despite their differences, they are very much the same.
“We talked about our families and found that we both come from a family of nine siblings and that we are both very family-oriented,” said King, from Monticello, Arkansas. “I shared with her how I value hard work and education, which is also important to her as well. She soldiers during the day and goes to school at night; at one point in my career, I did the same. I discovered that she had some of the same hopes and dreams that I do as a woman and also as a leader.”
King said some Afghan women have told her their family members do not want them to have anything to do with the military, while other husbands and family members are supportive.
Tabish’s fiancée, she said, is very supportive of her having a career.
King, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1983, said she can relate to the struggles of being a woman in the military at a time when opportunities for women were limited and gender discrimination was widespread.
“When I first joined the Army,” said King, “I was in a predominantly male-led unit. The hardest obstacle to triumph was unjustifiable slander that most females encountered. In general, I had to work harder, faster and smarter than most of my male counterparts, just to prove my merit. Once I demonstrated that I was capable of doing my job and that I could hold my own physically, I became part of the team, and it evolved into a very positive experience. Many of the prejudices that I faced early in my career decreased significantly over the years due to programs, policies and mandatory training that was implemented.”
King meets Tabish at least once a week and says mentorship is critical to the success of her development and Afghanistan’s future.
“Throughout my military career, I have had several mentors,” said King. “I realized early on there was no way that I could have made it on my own. Everybody needs somebody, which is why I reached out to her and plan to continue to make myself available for her.”
A different country, army, language and culture don’t intimidate King when it comes to mentoring soldiers. It’s a part of who she is, she said.
“Mentoring is in my heart. I know that no one can make it in this world without some form of mentorship. If given the opportunity, I will without hesitation serve as a mentor for other Afghan women to allow them to see the hope within themselves and help preserve the opportunities for them to contribute to a better future.”
King said she wants the women of Afghanistan who are considering a career in the military to know that there are many opportunities for them and with hard work, determination and belief in themselves they can accomplish their goals.
“As my parents instilled in me, hard work and education are the key to success,” said King. “Although they may face a much different challenge than what I encountered, I want them to know that all things are possible if you apply yourself and do your very best; how far you go or succeed is ultimately up to you.”
“Without doubt, once their military and other organizations recognize what a valuable and irreplaceable resource women are and how much they can contribute, there will be even more opportunities available for them,” King added.
King was asked to be the guest speaker at the recent ceremony for the first Afghan National Army females to graduate from Regional Military Training Center–West in Herat. They were the first females to graduate from an ANA training center outside Kabul.
“Your hard work and dedication is a sign of commitment, courage and great character,” King told the graduates. “I am very proud of each and every one of you for taking a step in the right direction. I hope this will encourage others to join the ranks and serve in greater positions of responsibility. Continue to be a great role model and set the example for others to follow, and to want to serve and protect Afghanistan. The knowledge and experience that you have gained today will not only strengthen you, but it will also strengthen Afghanistan.”