Leadership Ideas, Information and News

Saturday, March 16, 2013

One success inspires the next for today's women leaders

by Martha Lockwood
Air Force News Service


3/16/2013 - FORT MEADE, Md. (AFNS) -- "Things done are won; joy's soul is in the doing." This quote from one of Shakespeare's most ambiguous plays, Troilus and Cressida, appears to be the constant theme behind the careers of many of the Air Force's most accomplished women.

Whether it was The Honorable Sheila E. Widnall, the 18th Secretary of the Air Force (1993-97)--and the first and only woman to take the oath of office as the secretary of any of the armed forces--who came out of academia to answer her country's call; or Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy in engineering sciences, who has come up through the ranks to become the Air Force's first female four-star general; or Maj. Nicole Malachowski, who in 2006, was the first woman pilot on the precision flying team the Air Force Thunderbirds, the same can be said of each: One success served only to provide the inspiration and firm foundation for the next.

The joy of doing, and a recurring theme of innovation, is also the distinguishing theme throughout others' careers, as well. The four following highlighted careers are, like the three mentioned above, women who put a human face on Air Force excellence. Whether it's in academia, service, or leadership, whether they serve stateside or overseas, in times of peace or theatres of conflict, these are very human and inspiring lives.

Maj. Gen. Mary Kay Hertog is a solid example of building one's successes on a firm foundation of excellence in academia, service, and leadership. She began her career in ROTC, where she emerged as a distinguished graduate in 1978. Her work at unit, major command, and Air Staff level in various positions has included commanding several large security forces units, a technical training group, and one of the largest training wings in the U.S. Air Force, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. She was the director of Security Forces, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.; and prior to her current assignment, she was the commander, 2nd Air Force, Keesler AFB, Miss.

Concurrently, she was pursuing her education -Squadron Officer School, Maxwell AFB, Ala.; a master's degree in industrial psychology from Webster University, St. Louis, Mo.; and both the Air Command and Staff College and the Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Ala.

Today, she is the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), which is the Department of Defense's single point of accountability for all sexual assault policy matters. SAPRO reports to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

As with Maj. Gen. Hertog, wholehearted involvement in the Air Force is a defining characteristic of retired Maj. Gen. Marcelite Harris' career. More than a decade before Maj. Gen. Hertog, Major Gen. Harris also followed a traditional path, obtaining her bachelor's degree in speech and drama from Spellman College in Atlanta in 1964. A year later, she was commissioned a second lieutenant after completing Officer Training School at Lackland AFB, Texas.

After early-career assignments as an administrative officer, Harris transitioned into the maintenance field by attending the aircraft maintenance officer's course at Chanute Air Force Base, Ill., and graduated as the first female aircraft maintenance officer. After a series of maintenance supervisor assignments in Thailand, California, and Washington, D.C., Harris became one of the first women to be an air officer commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Following a series of equally stellar appointments throughout the world, Harris became the first female African-American general in 1991.

Although she retired from active duty in 1997, Harris continues a rigorous and active involvement in the Air Force. In 2010, President Obama appointed her a member of the Board of Visitors for the United States Air Force Academy.

Excellence in academics, service, and leadership isn't the only path to success for women in the Air Force. And even careers that seemingly converge, often demonstrate excellence in different ways. Two people who were named to the first female fighter-pilot class in 1993--retired Lt. Col. Sharon Preszler and retired Col. Martha McSally--found their similar skills and training put to use in different arenas.

Seeing the opportunity to become a fighter pilot as full participation in "a performance-based industry," Preszler was stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, upon completion of her training. There she flew sorties over Iraq as part of Operation Northern Watch. Ultimately becoming 20th Fighter Wing staff director and Commander's Action Group director, Preszler credits her mother with instilling in her the idea that she could fly planes, not just ride in them.

Col. Martha McSally was also named to that first all-female class of fighter pilots in 1993, but it would be another year before she actually arrived. Upon graduation in 1995, she was deployed to Kuwait where she saw action in Afghanistan. In July 2004, when she took command of the 354th Fighter Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., she became the first woman to command a fighter squadron.

There is no question that for these four women, and for the thousands of men and women who have excelled in their own Air Force niche, joy is found in a job well done. And inspiration. There must be an ideal to light the way. McSally may have said it best: "...I hope I'm a role model to both men and women because we are a fighting force and should not be concerned with the differences between us."

(Martha Lockwood is the chief of Air Force Information Products, Defense Media Activity)

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