Lackland Airman attends Joint Women's Leadership Symposium

  • Published
  • By SrA Alysha Alexander
  • Defense Language Institute English Language Center
"Hey Alexander what are your plans for March 3-5?"

"No plans sir."

"Good. Pack your bags you're going to D.C. to attend a women's symposium."

That's how I fumbled across a well-kept secret.

I have always wanted to do my best and lead by example. The Joint Women's Leadership Symposium has given me the means to be a successful, capable mentor for others.

What is the Joint Women's Leadership Symposium about? That's the question I had, and it seems most people I spoke with wanted to know as well. The symposium is hosted by the Sea Service Leadership Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing professional development for the armed forces. This year the conference was held at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor, Md. The focus was to empower, educate and support women in the armed forces.

In promoting the focus, many topics were discussed and hit home for me such as how to be a great leader. I learned what type of leader I want to be. What mentors I have and need to help mold me so that I have the means to be a successful, capable mentor for others.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world," said one panel moderator. Leading by example can be tiring at times. Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Ms. Michéle Flournoy opened my eyes with a specific statement, "you can have it all, but not all at the same time. Be honest with yourself and go with what you need."

Life is about balance and support. Often I've found myself overexerting myself at work with little energy for my personal life. Since the symposium I've found it easier to be honest with myself and coworkers with what extra time I have to volunteer versus time I need to keep to myself to work on self improvement, i.e., school, physical training, and other personal needs.

The symposium did a remarkable job of empowering, educating and supporting women, but it also providing numerous networking opportunities. I had the opportunity to lunch with Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition; Maj. Gen. Sharon Dunbar, Director of Force Management Policy, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower, Personnel and Services, Headquarters U.S. Air Force; and Elaine Harmon, a former Women's Air Force Service pilot.

I had opportunities to talk comfortably with high ranking women about my experiences in the Air Force. Air Force senior NCOs at the symposium presented volunteer opportunities, family related obstacles, and ways to advance in my military career. I was the lowest ranking person at most of the events. Throughout the conference I saw two other senior airmen and no one of lower rank.

I was immediately taken over by a sense of camaraderie--everyone was taking me under their wing with their experiences and guidance. They have gone through the trails and errors so that we are able to be more successful as we push on to progress in our future. With more than 1,700 people in attendance, the symposium did a miraculous job of focusing on 'me'.

The conference wasn't only women. A few brave men were there as attendees and speakers. Yes, the symposium covers a lot of women's history and experiences; however, it also provided tools to improve the future of our armed forces' equal opportunities. What better way to accomplish this than to have leaders, regardless of their gender, help us to reach the highest level of success?

Master Sgt. Francisco Carreras, Defense Intelligence Agency, attended as a panelist along with his wife Master Sgt. Carrie Carreras. They talked about how they've been able to both stay in the military and balance life at home with four children. Along with balance being a weakness of mine, I also worry about my future. How can I be the world's greatest mom and a successful leader in the military? With support! Francisco spoke about understanding there has to be give and take in a relationship to make it work. The sergeants covered how they set up a schedule of when each would take off work covering the children when they're out of school. What a relief, it can be done! It may not be easy, but who wants easy? I just need possible.

Every speaker, panel, and workshop demanded my full attention with words of wisdom, guidance, support, and funny stories. Not only did they draw my attention, but also made everything so personal I couldn't help but feel connected to the panelist, speakers, and the entire room of attendees.

Our speakers ranged from Olympic athlete and humanitarian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to assistant to the President and chief of staff to the First Lady, Michelle Obama, Ms. Tina Tchen.

Regardless of who you are or where you're at in your life, I strongly trust that you can take away a valuable experience benefiting you in your future.