The Fewer, The Proud: III MEF hosts women’s leadership symposium
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP SMEDLEY D. BUTLER, OKINAWA, Japan - Less than 8 percent of the U.S. Marine Corps is made up of women. A little more than 140,000 of 1 million active duty forces are women.
Women’s Leadership Symposium May 15 at The Palms on Camp Hansen and May 22 at Surfside on Camp Kinser.
The symposium provided training and mentorship to female service members and consisted of workshops, senior leader guest speakers, and a leadership panel that answered questions presented by junior service members.
“The women’s symposium is a venue that was born out of a specific need brought to (the command’s) attention by senior leaders to address certain issues that are unique and specific to female service members,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Rafika O. Vann, the III MEF equal opportunity advisor.
The daylong symposium brought together women from all over Okinawa who serve in the different branches of U.S. military. Male service members also attended to gain insight into issues concerning their female counterparts.
The day began with guest speakers sharing their experiences while serving in the military. The audience was then divided into three groups to attend workshops throughout the day: “The Person Within,” “Finding the Balance,” and “Let’s Get to Work.”
“‘The Person Within’ was about self-esteem and self-awareness to help individuals cope with issues within themselves,” said Vann, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “‘Let’s Get to Work’ focused on career progression and various paths that individuals can take to further their careers. ‘Finding the balance’ was about prioritizing life goals, personal goals, starting a family, being parents, interpersonal relationships, and how to prioritize all your roles to best suit whatever point you’re at in your career.”
For many of the participants, just hearing that other people were facing the same struggles gave them the courage to speak out about their own troubles, according to Lance Cpl. Alyssa A. Richter, a military policewoman with 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III MEF Headquarters Group, III MEF.
“It was exciting to see everyone really gather around and address issues that are very prevalent in our workplace,” said Richter, a Port Charlotte, Fla., native. “It’s addressing situations that are very real for us and how we can overcome different challenges that are present that our male counterparts (may not) see.”
The day’s scheduled events ended with a question-and-answer panel in which junior service members sought advice and encouragement from more senior officers and enlisted Marines and sailors. Topics ranged from military regulations on female hairstyles and body composition to opinions of women in combat occupations. No topic was off-limits for the women and men on the leadership panel.
At the Camp Hansen event, Lt. Gen. John Wissler, the commanding general of III MEF, gave the closing remarks. “You’ve got to go for it,” said Wissler. “You’ve got to commit yourself to success. Commit yourself to being that engaged leader. Know yourself, know your business, and find the balance. And what balance is for you, is not necessarily balance for somebody else. So, you’ve got to find balance for yourself. If you do that, our Marine Corps is going to be in good hands for a long time.”
On Camp Kinser, Brig. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, came to show his support and offer his own words of encouragement.
With attendance in the hundreds, and representatives from all branches of the military, Vann and the Marines who helped make the symposium a reality consider this year’s event a success and look forward to providing another seminar next year.
“I want (women in the military) to understand that they’re not alone and that there is support out there,” said Vann. “I want them to know that the very issue that they’re going through, good or bad, is something that many of us have gone through or are going through as well, so you are not alone. Sometimes, knowing that you’re not alone is enough.”