Special guests delight crowd at Women's History Month observance
March 30, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. - A recent Women's History Month observance at the Officers' Club had all the ingredients for a success.
A presentation of colors by the Joint Color Guard of Fort Belvoir's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a rousing musical selection by members of the Army Entertainment Road Show and two special guest speakers comprised the event.
Isabelle Slifer, who retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Army Reserve in 2005, was the first to the podium.
She works as assistant director for Army Reserve Affairs and, at one time, taught high school history while serving in various units throughout western New York. In the spirit of celebrating women's history, Slifer said it was fitting that she was not only accompanied to the afternoon's lunch by her husband, but by a former female student who eventually became a command sergeant major in the Army.
"I promised her I wouldn't mention her (the former student's) age. Besides, it would probably tip you off to how old I am. We sure don't want that," Slifer joked with the audience. "But she's just one example of how proud I am of what women have been able to do during our remarkable history as a nation. We have so much to be proud of."
As a former teacher, Slifer is quite aware of women's accomplishments and admits she can run off a list of names as if it were a contest.
During her speech, she noted the likes of Dr. Mary Walker - an abolitionist during the time of the Civil War and the only female to ever receive the Medal of Honor. She also mentioned Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, who serves as senior leader for the Development Office of the Chief of Staff - U.S. Army and the only female to be promoted to general grade from the military police corps. Slifer also highlighted the success of Gen. Ann Dunwoody, the current commanding general for the U.S. Army Materiel Command and the first woman in uniformed history to achieve a four-star officer grade.
"Let's not forget the Hello Girls of 1917, either. That was a group of bi-lingual telephone switchboard operators from the U.S. Signal Corps during the time of World War I," Slifer said. "They were the first women's group in history to be deployed to the front lines. In my opinion, that's what's fascinating about our history. It shows us who we are, where we've been and that we're continuing to move on."
Silfer's words served as a perfect springboard to the program's keynote speaker, Michele Jones. A retired command sergeant major from the Army Reserve, Jones is the special assistant to the Secretary of Defense - White House liaison.
During her career, Jones would distinguish herself as the first woman selected class president at the U.S. Sergeants Major Academy and the first woman to serve as a division CSM.
But being the first in anything, she stressed, should not be about you individually, but rather an acknowledgement to those before you.
She then added a strong message to all the female Soldiers in attendance. "Every time you put on that uniform, you're an ambassador for every woman who has ever served," Jones said. "We're merely continuing the legacy that previous generations of women started. If not for their contributions, we would not be where we are today." Jones then recalled a story from her days as a PFC.
While on assignment in California, she said she met an elderly African-American woman in the lobby of a hotel and the two struck up a conversation. Jones said the woman reminded her and acted a lot like her grandmother.
She soon learned the woman once served in the military and was very proud of her service. Before saying their goodbyes, Jones said the woman told her, "Keep going and, whatever you do in life, just do your best."
Those words and their time together resonated with Jones later that evening, when she got the news that her grandmother had just passed away. "That experience reminds myself of what I call the five Ls. They are loyalty, leadership, liberty, life and legacy. The last one being a testament to how you lived," Jones said. "This woman was content with what she had done in life, but was especially grateful to those who served before her. It's important to stand tall and be proud of ourselves, but we must also pay homage to all those amazing women that paved the way for us."