Servicewomen gather at largest conference for military women in the country
By ISABEL DOBRIN | The Virginian-Pilot (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 16, 2017
NORFOLK, Va. — Navy reservist Commander Jill Rough saw more women in uniform gathered in one space Thursday than she’d seen in her life.
“We just don’t have these numbers when you’re out doing your day-to-day job,” she said.
Rough was one of more than 800 servicewomen who attended the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium at The Main conference center in downtown Norfolk – the largest gathering of U.S. servicewomen in the nation, spokeswoman Katie Kajfez said.
The nonprofit Sea Service Leadership Association sponsored the event. It formed in 1978 to provide education, mentorship and network opportunities for women in the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
Women from all five military services gathered for the two-day conference to discuss policies that shape and affect servicewomen.
Retired Air Force Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, the keynote speaker, spoke about the strides she saw during her 35 years of service, and the gains she continues to see as an advocate for servicewomen.
Wolfenbarger, who was the first four-star general in the Air Force, serves as the chair of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. Formed in 1951, the committee is made up of civilians and veterans – men and women – who are appointed by the secretary of defense to provide recommendations for recruiting, retaining and integrating women in the armed forces, Wolfenbarger said.
In 2016, the committee looked at opening up the services to women who are single mothers, updating physical standards for women and improving transition services for women who leave the military.
“We have all come a long way, but there are still areas that need attention,” she said.
After the keynote, a panel that included Army Col. Mary Krueger, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds and Navy Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti discussed challenges facing female service members.
The panelists said the services need to better support women who balance career and family life.
“It used to be said that if the Army wanted you to have a family, it would have issued you one,” said Krueger, a mother of five. “But you don’t have to have a career and have a family and feel like you’re cutting them both short.”
Rough, who moderated the panel and studies women in the military as an adjunct professor at George Mason University, said the symposium brought up a key topic that doesn’t get much attention.
“A new issue that came up was dual-military families that end up getting divorced and how you co-locate the parents who have joint-custody of the child,” she said. “That’s something that hasn’t been discussed a lot, but obviously has a big impact on our military.”
During the question-and-answer session after the panel discussion, Clarissa Butler, an E-2 Hawkeye naval flight officer based at Hampton Roads Naval Support Activity, brought up the challenge of finding child care through the military’s child development centers, which are often full. Butler has a 14 month-old.}
“Because this is a fleet concentration center, the number of people who are having children creates a wait list situation, and these CDCs can sometimes be the only option for sailors working 12 or more hours a day,” she said.
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From left: Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti, Army Col. Mary Krueger and Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Lori E. Reynolds during a panel discussion "Outlook on Women in the Military: Policy and Plans," during the Joint Women's Leadership Symposium in the ballroom of The Main in downtown Norfolk Thursday afternoon, June 15, 2017.
BILL TIERNAN/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT (TNS)