FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Almost 250 women gathered at Stone Education Center March 13, to learn ways to get more out of Army life and better cope with its challenges.

According to the brochure, "The 2009 Women's Conference, Climb Every Mountain, is a program designed specifically to provide women with skills to assist them in meeting the varied challenges that military life presents."

The theme of the conference, Stay Strong, Aim High, described what Army spouses are required to do nearly everyday.

U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. June Walbert, U.S. Army Japan, and financial planning services, USAA, served as keynote speaker.

"I am flattered to be invited to speak with you today," Walbert said. "Nobody knows like a military spouse, what a tough job you have, and we thank you for your service."

Because March is Women's History Month, Walbert gave a summary of various women in history. Among those she discussed was Susan B. Anthony, who gave 75 to 100 speeches per year for 45 years in her efforts to bring women the right to vote.

Walbert also talked about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, another women's suffrage leader; Eleanor Roosevelt, first lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945; and Gloria Steinem, writer and activist in the 1970s women's rights movement.

Turning to matters closer to the military, Walbert talked about the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps and the Women's Army Corps and how those first opportunities for women to serve in uniform laid the groundwork for the women who are meeting many new challenges in today's Army.

The Army, Walbert pointed out, had provided tremendous opportunities for women. It is one workplace, she said, where women are assured of getting equal pay with men for doing the same jobs.

Walbert talked about some of her own struggles for respect and equal treatment. She told the story of her experiences as the only female student, among 150 students, in an Air Assault course. It was a demanding course, physically, mentally and psychologically, but Walbert asked for no special treatment. When the male students started calling her "she-man," Walbert knew she had been accepted as one of the team.

Walbert earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Central Oklahoma, but she found journalism was not the road to financial security. She went back to school at night to learn how to be a financial planner.

At the end of the course, she took a 10-hour exam - managing to pass the test on her first try - and became a certified financial planner. She currently works for USAA, when she isn't in uniform.

"One of the reasons I enjoy my job so much is because I can help people learn from my mistakes," Walbert said. "When it comes to finances, one simple mistake can be (very costly)."

Today, women make a lot of the financial decisions for their families, so it's all the more important that they understand something about it, she said. She offered a basic hint at good money management.

"The first lesson in money is that you don't get stuff for free," Walbert said.

Wanda Cruz, chairperson of the 2009 Women's Conference, acknowledged everyone who supported the conference, and donated items for the tote bags and door prizes given out to participants.

Those who attended appreciated the efforts, too.

"I love the women's conference and I look forward to attending it every year," said Taleen Jackson. "I wish every installation had one."

According to Cruz, Army spouses everywhere lost a good friend in November 2008, when Judi Bramlett, co-founder of the first Women's Conference held in 1988 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, lost her fight against lung cancer.

"We owe her a great debt of gratitude, so we dedicated this conference in her memory," Cruz said.

Page last updated Thu March 26th, 2009 at 17:37