by Staff Sgt. Katie Gar Ward
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
6/13/2014 - NORFOLK, Va. -- The
Sea Services Leadership Association hosted the 27th Annual Joint Women's
Leadership Symposium in Norfolk, June 12-13, to recognize the strengths
and talents of women in the armed forces and discuss the unique aspects
of being a female Service member.
More than 800 U.S. and international Service members from all branches
attended the two-day event, which featured keynote speakers, an awards
luncheon, professional development sessions and service-specific forums.
In conjunction with the conference's theme, "Why Do You Serve?", the
guest speakers expanded on aspects of military lifestyle that impact
women the most, challenges that are unique to female Service members, as
well as lessons from their careers and life experiences.
The first day of the symposium began with opening remarks from retired
U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, Coast Guard director of incident
management and preparedness policy. She spoke about the history and
evolution of women in the military and government departments.
"We have this amazing country, constitution and history, and women have
been a part of it since the Revolutionary War," said Landry. "I realize
the struggles of what it means to be a woman in the service, and I have
so much respect for the women who came before us."
Landry also offered advice and insight relating to why she chose to
serve, and how it relates to women currently serving in the military.
"While you all have various reasons for serving, they are all right
reasons," she said. "[But] your reasons will also change and evolve over
time, so allow that wonderful evolution. You will look back and see
how much you have accomplished, because the military is a great place
for lifetime learning."
During her remarks, Landry touched on the various challenges that face
women in the armed forces, such as trying to find a perfect balance
between home life and work, and encouraged female Service members to
accept that sometimes there will be an imbalance.
"Many of you are top achievers -- you wouldn't survive in the military
if you weren't, so don't be hard on yourself. Don't dwell on the things
that challenge you," she said. "Respect each other's diversity and
respect what you all bring to [the military]. We are women in the
service, but we are also people in the service with a relevant place in
it. As we rest on the shoulders of all those who served before us, we
have to thank them, and I also and thank you. Each day you are paying
them back through your contributions."
Following the opening guest speakers, Service members attended
professional development sessions and informational forums, which
focused on financial planning and decision-making strategies, and an
also included a session pertaining to the Department of Defense's Sexual
Assault Prevention Strategy. The forums fostered many networking
opportunities and helped promote a learning environment for future
leaders, said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, chairman of the board
"There is a legacy in leadership. I've been in the Coast Guard since
1980 ... and it's been an amazing 34 years of wearing this uniform. It's
my job now to give back to the women who will follow, and that's the
purpose of this symposium," she said. "I want them to learn from each
other, because we all come from different places and backgrounds, have
different thought processes and there's not just one right way to do
Thomas also shared what she thinks can be an obstacle for female Service
members, which is something she calls the "can't say no gene," an
aspect of one's work ethic that can sometimes take away from time with
"In our nature [as] wives [and] mothers, we want to love and give
compassion, so when we see someone who is hurting or needs help, we want
to help them. That's part of what our ethos is," she said. "[But
it's] important ... to find flexibility in your family to be able to
handle all the vagaries of life. When I put this uniform down, I still
want to be married and I still want to be a mom. The work is going to be
there afterward, and it's okay to stop work to go home and spend time
with your family."
The second day of the symposium was centered around service-specific
activities, where members of each branch gathered with their respective
services for question and answer sessions, forums and small-group
discussions. During the Air Force sessions, participants discussed
health tips, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and retention issues
among women in the military.
For U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Monica Alvarado, 633rd Medical Group
ophthalmic technician, hearing from women who share similar challenges
creates a collaborative environment where she can apply those lessons to
help shape her own reasons for serving.
"I serve because I wanted to make a difference in my community and for
my children, to show them you can ... do something for the community as
well as yourself," she said. "This symposium a simply amazing
experience I've never had before. I've learned a lot from [the women] in
the different services, their perspectives, their [experiences] and
successes, and that even if you go through challenges, you can still be
During the Air Force session, Chief Master Sgt. Trae King, 633rd Air
Base Wing command chief, addressed the more than 100 Airmen in
attendance, first expressing her experience after attending her first
symposium four years ago, where only 30 Airmen were present.
"I left my first year so inspired and encouraged. You represent more
than the 100 ladies here today - you represent the whole Air Force," she
said. "I've been in 29 years, and when I think of why I serve, it's
because of all of you."
King continued, sharing her motivations for joining after coming from
humble beginnings. She said her initial goal was to make the rank of
master sergeant, but that desire expanded over the course of her career.
"I didn't see women in [higher ranks], I didn't see female generals. I
could've gotten out 10 years ago, but the Air Force has changed my
entire life," she said. "It's afforded me many opportunities, and
allowed me to raise my daughter ... I started going to school. Now I
serve because I have the opportunity to lead [women like you] all the
time, and [you] encourage and empower me every single day," she said.
"When people ask me why I serve, I say, 'well why not?'"