F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
The opportunity to engage in candid conversations with senior military leaders can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Both male and female Airmen who attended the second 20th Air Force Women’s Leadership Symposium, Sept. 26 to 28 at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, interacted with military pioneers who paved the way for the current generation.
The professional development event featured Airmen and a Soldier who shared about their past mistakes, overcoming challenges, and how they remained true to their character and core values through adversity.
“One of the biggest things that stuck with me from listening to the senior leaders was the need to accept every opportunity, even if it presents itself as a challenge,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Garcia, Airmen Leadership School instructor, Kirtland AFB. “Sometimes when you take on new opportunities, you make mistakes; but I’ve learned that bouncing back, learning from those mistakes and continuing to take care of your Airmen are what matter.”
This year men were invited to share in the discussions with women across the Numbered Air Force. By exposing attendees to lessons-learned from top leaders and providing insight into ongoing initiatives, the three-day event served to encourage diversity of thought and to broaden perspectives.
Maj. Gen. Sandra Finan, Deputy Chief Information Officer for Command, Control, Communications and Computers and Information Infrastructure Capabilities, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Pentagon, Washington D.C., attended the symposium as a mentor, sharing stories from her 33-year career, which included being among the first women to serve as a combat missile operator at Malmstrom AFB, Montana. She also expressed the need for Airmen to continue executing the ICBM mission with skill and excellence.
“We put a lot of responsibility on you to operate, maintain and secure the world’s most powerful weapons, and never forget your actions maintain our nation’s strength,” said Finan. “You set the foundation for strength against enemies to achieve peace. What you do every single day affects that because deterrence depends on having the will and the capability to do what is necessary in the pursuit of what is good and right.”
Other briefers shared their experiences leading inside and outside of the ICBM mission and expressed the need for supervisors to be impactful leaders by inspiring their units to strive for excellence.
“I learned we have to truly know our Airmen and challenge ourselves to motivate them in different ways because they’re all different people,” said Staff Sgt. Jennifer Zemke Macelman, 91st Security Forces Group unit security manager, Minot AFB, North Dakota. “Hearing how other people think and what they are going through is important. We need to acknowledge and accept all of the characteristics that make our Airmen unique because diversity is what makes our Air Force the best it can be.”
The 20 AF missileers, maintainers, defenders and mission support Airmen in the audience were transfixed as senior leaders relayed their leadership philosophies, answered questions about maintaining balance between family and work, and unveiled how they made tough decisions by accepting risk in their careers.
Capt. June Richards, married mother of two and missile crew instructor, 341st Missile Wing, Malmstrom AFB, Montana, shared the symposium’s impact on her decision to reevaluate her career in the Air Force.
“I was really on the fence about separating, but this has really helped me put things into perspective that having a successful career and spending time with my family can work,” Richards said. “I definitely feel more motivated to keep going, and I’m not thinking about separating anymore.”
At the end of the event, both Maj. Gen. Anthony Cotton, 20th AF commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Calvin Williams, Air Force Global Strike Command command chief, shared their mutual goal of making the event even bigger next year.
“To me this needs to be an AFGSC initiative to build upon the things 20th AF has set forward to do,” Williams said. “It’s a powerful forum for young Airmen to see that their command is investing in them as future leaders in our Air Force.”
The 20th AF commander encouraged attendees to take the information they learned and educate their fellow Airmen to accept diversity, foster an environment of dignity and respect, and to execute the mission to the best of their abilities.
“Our Air Force still has work to do, and it’s up to you to take this message and spread it like wildfire,” Cotton said. “Share your experience with the men and women within your command, and inspire change by being the best you.”