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NEWS | May 16, 2014

South Dakota National Guard members empower women at multinational leadership symposium

By Sgt. 1st Class Theanne Tangen South Dakota National Guard

PARAMARIBO, Suriname - Members of the South Dakota National Guard participated in a multinational leadership symposium this week for women serving in the armed forces in the South American capital city of Paramaribo, Suriname.

The three-day event, May 12-14, was filled with guest speakers, instructional workshops and activities designed to help share knowledge and build friendships among 250 women from the Republic of Suriname, Curacao and the United States. The symposium, hosted by Suriname, was conducted as a part of the State Partnership Program with the SDNG.

Speakers at the event included doctors, educators and military leaders to include the SDNG's Lt. Col. Renel Hall-Beck, of Sturgis, who spoke to empower women who are striving to be the best leaders in their organization.

"In my opinion, women are already leaders," said Hall-Beck. "They just don't give themselves credit for it. Women are constantly juggling life's challenges by being mothers, community leaders, plus having a career."

Hall-Beck told the women a leader is someone with a goal who works hard to achieve that goal and someone who is prepared, professional and confident. Her speech resonated with Wendy, a sergeant from the Suriname Police Corps.

"I have a hard time keeping my goals," she said. "Hall-Beck said to focus on your main goal and don't get discouraged, no matter what. Just go for it."

"Being in Suriname to deliver a speech to all of these motivated and excited women is powerful," said Hall-Beck. "It is rewarding to know the knowledge I am passing on will help the women at this symposium with their career."

Army Maj. Kathy Dirk, SDNG state partnership program coordinator, said this event is impressive.

"I have traveled to Suriname for several events, but none of them have been to this magnitude of planning and execution by both the Suriname event planners and the Ministry of Defense," said Dirk. "You can tell how important this event is to Suriname by how detailed and professional everything is from the speakers, posters, event program to the final agenda. We are hoping to continue with events of this caliber in the future."

In addition to Hall-Beck's speech, she and S.D. Air National Guard Lt. Col. Mary Rysavy, of Sioux Falls, commander of the 114th Fighter Wing Logistics Readiness Squadron, served as board members during a mentor interview break-out session.

A group of four to five women had two minutes to ask a question related to leadership; from time management to goal setting, before rotating to the next mentor.

"A lot of the women were interested in how to manage time in order to balance personal and military commitments," said Rysavy. "The best advice I could give them is to establish their priorities and develop a strong support system to help manage both their personal and professional life."

Many of the women asked about how to be equal to their male counterparts, said Rysavy.

"I told them at the end of the day you have to be the best person you can be," said Rysavy. "It's going to come down to not competing against the men but competing against yourself, to become better than who you were yesterday."

The interview session became a learning experience for the mentors too.

"I learned that South American women - and those of us from North America - have the same challenges," said Hall-Beck. "Whether that is balancing family and career, time management issues, or desire for promotion, there are many commonalities. We arrived in Suriname with the intent of sharing our experience, but we are leaving with more knowledge, hope and optimism for the future."