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NEWS | April 2, 2024

Women in Military Lauded at Air and Space Symposium

By Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena, National Guard Bureau

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Hundreds of female service members joined a panel to explore women’s integration into the military during the 2024 Women’s Air & Space Power Symposium at Peterson Space Force Base March 26.

Total Force Airmen and Guardians from every corner of America joined partner nation counterparts to discuss military integration, gender diversity, inclusivity and leadership advocacy with top Defense Department enlisted leaders.

“When I think about the Revolutionary War, women were disguising themselves just to serve,” said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Melvina A. Smith, command chief master sergeant of Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Forces Strategic-Air. “Just to serve this nation.

“Today, when I look across the room,” she said, “It’s pretty impressive. Whether you fought to be the first in your family to go to college, or to be the first to join the military so you could lead a life. We are integrated, but we have work to do.”

The conversations during the meeting shed light on the strides taken to include women in the military. Milestones cited included the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act, the approval for women to fly naval aircraft, and the lifting of the ban on women serving in combat.

The National Guard’s top enlisted member recognized his and his senior enlisted advisor counterparts’ efforts to support an inclusive military force.

“Our focus is on improving the quality of life for all service members and creating an inclusive force,” said SEA Tony Whitehead, senior enlisted advisor to the chief, National Guard Bureau.

“This involves continuing the progress made by recent legislation and policy changes, such as the Reproductive Healthcare Act, expanded parental leave, redesigned uniforms for better functionality and fit, subsidized childcare for families, and alternative non-standard hours childcare for our National Guard children.

“These ongoing efforts are aimed at providing peace of mind to our military mothers, knowing that their loved ones receive quality care while they continue to serve,” he said. “It is important to continually adapt these policies to meet the evolving needs of all service members.”

Air Force Tech Sgt. Cindey Zeledon joined the Air National Guard before transitioning to the active-duty Air Force. She said she was inspired to serve after seeing other mothers in the military. She said serving is one of the best decisions she could have made for her family.

“I have five kids,” Zeledon said. “But you know what, I didn’t make that an excuse. I made it my reason to serve.”

Zeledon aimed to serve in active military duty, but she faced obstacles and eventually joined the Air National Guard and served for six years. Despite this change, her aspiration to become a training instructor persisted.

Today, she is a military training instructor for the 433rd Training Squadron. Zeledon credits the National Guard for giving her the opportunity to serve and Chief Master Sgt. Lisa Perry, the command senior enlisted leader for the Colorado National Guard, for mentoring her and helping her to continue serving in the Air Force.

“Our [female] aspirations are rooted in the desire for equality, where everyone is recognized for their contributions and not favored based on gender,” she said. “We understand that there will be times when we excel, and times when we don’t. The deciding factor must always be competency and suitability for the role. In the end, what matters most is selecting the right person for the job.”

Space Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Caleb Lloyd, senior enlisted leader, Space Operations Command, challenged those in the room to be the change they seek at all levels.

“Make an effort to seek them [females] out and include them in your conversations,” he said. “Inclusivity is not just about having a seat at the table; we should extend the same effort to underrepresented groups such as women and minorities.”

Simply sitting at the table with a nameplate before us is not enough to be part of the conversation. We must take simple actions like being in a staff meeting and calling deliberately on a female who may not usually speak up, but you know has great thoughts.”

March is celebrated as Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the accomplishments of women across the globe. In recent years, service women have seen more inclusive policies, including changes to hair regulations and allowing pregnant aviators to fly.

Whitehead said, “It is crucial for military leaders at all levels to continuously represent and advocate for all members of their forces, regardless of gender or nationality.

“Operationally, it’s important to hold leaders, NCOs, and change agents accountable for creating an inclusive environment that values open discussions and collaborative problem- solving to recognize achievements and areas for improvement.”

“Addressing cultural and structural barriers is equally crucial” he said. “Through panels and discussions such as these, empowering women to share their experiences and insights, and celebrating the contributions of military and civilian women alike will not only inspire but drive the integration process.”



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