Zoppi inspires at women's observance
March 16, 2012
FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Empowerment dominated the discussion at the Fort Belvoir Women's History Month cultural observance Tuesday.
Soldiers and civilians learned about female contributions to America during the event at the Fort Belvoir Officer's Club.
However, Col. Irene Zoppi, Strategic Intelligence Group, Military Intelligence Readiness Command commander and guest speaker, made sure the audience walked away with more to think about.
"Know yourself and make time for others," Zoppi said. "The more we help each other the more we can transform ourselves and the world."
The event, sponsored by the installation's Equal Opportunity Office, honored the theme for March: "Women's Education-Women's Empowerment," which highlights women's successes in the classroom and in leadership positions.
Display tables in the Officer's Club highlighted American women contributions in fields such as science, art and government. The EOO also presented a real life representative of the theme in the form of Zoppi.
Zoppi graduated from military leadership courses such as the Combined Arms Staff Service Course and the Command & General Staff Officer Course. She also earned a doctorate degree from the University of Maryland and a leadership certificate from Harvard Business School.
Zoppi's serves as a research consultant, a professor and a motivational speaker in addition to her position as MIRC commander.
It's a highly decorated career but the colonel is first to acknowledge the path to success wasn't easy. She overcame the stereotypes associated with being a minority female in a field dominated by men.
Zoppi, born and raised in Puerto Rico, also had to learn English.
"I knew how to say yes, no and Hooah," said Zoppi recalling her experience when she first enlisted as private first class in 1985.
But Zoppi didn't focus her speech on her negative experiences. She provided the attendees a blueprint for empowering themselves and others by using people who influenced her.
A drill sergeant was very demanding of Zoppi when she first entered the Army. The colonel didn't realize it at the time, but the drill sergeant was pushing her to maximize her potential.
"Sometimes the people who make you struggle are the best people for your future, your destiny, your empowerment," Zoppi said.
Another influential person in Zoppi's life was her father who once told her women belong in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant.
"He was my biggest hero," Zoppi said. "I said 'Yes dad here is what's going to happen. I'm not going to do that. I'm joining the Army.'"
The message: Use negativity as motivation to reach one's goals.
Zoppi also included a quote from her mother as another key toward empowerment.
"She said 'education will give you the wings to fly,'" Zoppi said.
Zoppi urged everyone to keep these keys to empowerment in mind as they continue with their lives.
She encouraged Soldiers and civilians to network, manager their time wisely, take advantage of opportunities, and make time for Family and leisure activities.
At the conclusion of her speech, Zoppi challenged people to provide their own definition of empowerment.
Kim Mills, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation acting director, rose to the task.
"To extend your energy, your ability, your thought or your purpose to others and allow them to feel that whatever you have can pass through them," Mills said.
Zoppi and the other attendees applauded the answer.
According to the National Women's History website, Women's History Month traces back to the 1970s when the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County California Commission on the Status of Women initiated a Women's History Week. The celebration grew in popularity across state lines which eventually lead to the first month long commemoration in 1987.
Col. Maureen Tate, U.S. Army Medical Department Northern Region Medical Command Clinical Operations chief, began the dialogue by asking attendees to honor the people who dared to challenge the culture in America.
Tate said these women paved the way for other females to have a vast amount of life choices from being stay at home moms, Soldiers or professors.
"We have the knowledge and power to make our lives as successful as we choose," Tate said. "Everyday is a great day for women."
The garrison Plans, Analysis and Integration Office also encouraged people to support their participation in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, which occurs in Washington D.C. May 5 - 6. PAIO has committed to walk 39 miles as part of the fundraising effort.
The observance concluded with a food sampling honoring educated and empowered women. All except one guest enjoyed chicken, salad and fish. The one exclusion was Zoppi, who spent an hour talking to people about leadership, mentorship and pursuing dreams.
"I'm feeding their spirit and they're feeding mine," Zoppi said.
Zoppi said she appreciates the success she's had in her life and her next goal is to pass what she has learned onto as many people as possible. She encourages people to do the same.