AF women's symposium highlights many 'firsts'

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kelli Widner
  • 71st Force Support Squadron
In October, I was one of five women selected to represent Vance at the inaugural Air Force Women's Symposium held in Springfield, Va., and it is one of the highlights of my career.

The theme for the event was "they invented the wheel, it's up to us to keep it going," but the conference's official title was "Heritage to Horizons." The event included women who completed firsts in the Air Force and those who continue to achieve firsts for the military.

When I first heard of the symposium, I expected the conversation to be along the lines of a women's rights theme. I was greatly surprised to the contrary. The symposium offered different era heritage panels from the 40s through the 60s, 70s through the 80s, 90s to today and beyond. The themes included women in combat, a discussion by a heritage scholar and a joint E-9 session.

Each panel had three to four women who did something to further women's growth in the military or made a profound mark while serving in the military. A few women who presented included: retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught, the first female brigadier general; Army Col. Laura J. Richardson, 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment commander, who led soldiers during a deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom; retired Chief Master Sgt. Dottie Holmes, the first woman to retire from the Air Force with 30 years service time; and retired Chief Master Sgt. Vickie Mauldin, the first female to serve as a command chief for two separate Air Force major commands. In total there were about 40 speakers throughout the three day event to highlight women's contribution to the U.S. Armed Forces.

One of the things that kept me interested throughout these panels was the constant humor by the women in attendance. While each woman gave a solid piece of advice, they also gave us comedy.

Some of the advice the women gave all 600 attendees was "never wear high heels two days in a row" and "the higher you go it's not about the nuts and bolts, but how well you lead." I also heard, "it's not about getting dirty instead of your people, but beside your people" and "when you're given a chance to do something, take it."

The advice from every era panel changed over the years, but every story shared and question answered was delivered with a straight response. Some of the tougher advice came from the 1940s - 1960s panel.

They said, "if you cannot serve worldwide, then you cannot serve." Also, at a time when women were trying to prove themselves to complete tougher jobs, they had to realize that "when the red alarm hits, no one wants to hear that you don't have a babysitter." The panel's advice, although realized decades earlier, is still relevant today.

The overall conference was geared towards contributions made by women; however, men attended as speakers and guests. In fact, Dan Clark, the chief operating officer of a multi-million dollar corporation and an internationally recognized speaker, songwriter and recording artist, and New York Times best-selling author, closed the symposium.

During his wonderfully exciting presentation he sang and shared stories with us, leaving the attendees with one of the best pieces of advice I believe we all should follow on a daily basis, "to become good at anything, you have to stretch yourself. Now is the best time to stretch. Stretch your mind."