FORT SHAFTER FLATS, Hawaii -- This Womens' History Month three Army Reserve leaders shared their own Army histories and lessons learned, inspiring future female leaders to better navigate careers and lives and goals. The 9th Mission Support Command 2019 Womens' History Observance and panel discussion featured U.S. Army Pacific-Support Unit Commander Col. Patricia Wallace, Chief Legal Advisor Chief Warrant Officer 4 Catrena Hale and 9th MSC Command Sgt. Maj. Jessie Baird, bringing advice and foresight from nearly 100 years of combined service.
"We have been in every conflict, Women have been an enormously important part of our history, as we look back at historical events and where we were and where we are today, one of the reasons it is important is to celebrate it but also to understand where we are going," Master Sgt. Dana Apo, Womens History Month panel mediator said.
The National Women's History Month theme for 2019 is Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence."
This theme honors women who have shaped America's history and its future through their tireless commitment to ending discrimination against women and girls. Although their paths and personal histories were each unique, as the leaders engaged, parallel advice emerged.
Hale says she was originally inspired to join by her grandfather, a World War II veteran. "No one in my family was very supportive when I first joined, especially my mom," she said.
Hale left for Basic Training Jan 18 1992, two weeks before the start of Desert Storm.
"My son was two years old, and my mom was freaking out, she kept saying, you are going to go to war, you are going to get killed, plus I was in college on a track scholarship, and I joined the military, and left school, so my family wasn't very happy.
While her family definitely supports her today, the Senior Legal Advisor and now grandmother weathered challenges and changes of the Army through her career.
"Whatever I do, I'm going to do it with excellence and if you have a problem with me doing anything because I am female, then that's your problem," Hale said.
Col. Patricia Wallace, the first female brigade commander of U.S. Army Pacific - Support Unit, is herself a long way from when she first joined the Army as a private in 1986.
"As anything in life there are different phases of life, in 2008 I was going to retire, I was a major, and instead I got deployed, and I went through the pre-deployment station and had some fibroids. The doctor said, get over it, so I went to Iraq, and when I came back, I had to have a hysterectomy," she said. "I didn't stand up for myself... physically, it was ok, I had already had children, but I should have stood up for myself. So ever since then I do."
"Just be a woman, I am who I am, I'm good at my job, but I don't try to hide the fact or try to downplay the fact that I am a woman," Wallace said.
Each emphasized strength and empowerment through lifting one another and supporting each other, rather than competing against one another.
"Womens History is about everyone celebrating, there are 200,000 women in the Armed Forces today," Baird said.
Baird is the 1st female senior enlisted leader for the 9th MSC, the U.S. Army Reserve of the Pacific. She joined the Army in 1988. "I had never seen a female command sergeant major until I was a staff sergeant," she said. "So it didn't even occur to me to aspire to it. It was just impressive to be a master sergeant. It was then very uncommon just to have senior female enlisted Soldiers."
"When I got to the sergeants majors academy I was the only female," Baird said. "Now we are across the ranks, in all careers. Sometimes that's all it takes is you need to see the right person in the right place, and you can say,' I can do that,' well what are you waiting for?"
In today's U.S. Army and Army Reserve Forces all Soldiers, regardless of gender, complete the same training and must pass the same requirements to be awarded a military occupational specialty in any career field.
As of December 2017, the Army had assessed and integrated more than 600 female Soldiers into Infantry, Armor and Fire Support Specialist occupations. For the first time in history, the Army has fully integrated women into all military positions.
"One thing I see today, that I am proud of, is females kicking down doors, demanding respect and equal opportunity, not only in race but in gender as well," said Capt. Joe Rucker, 9th Mission Support Command Officer in Charge of the Command Operations Information Cell.
Wallace concurred, adding that a support system is essential.
"We don't know it all and we really need each other," Wallace said. "You have to have these connections. For years, I have a group of friends and we call ourselves the Army Divas, and we keep in touch and support one another."
Hale referred to this same concept of a support system as a foundation.
"Having a great support system is key," Hale said. "My support system was made up of my military family, but just balancing the work and home life, everyone has their own way, it doesn't matter if you are a school teacher or a doctor or whatever it is you do, you have to put your foundations in place. "
All three leaders are also mothers. Hale served at home as well, becoming a foster parent.
"When I go home I completely detach from work and I'm 100 percent," she said. "I understand the extra things we deal with the military sometimes get in the way of our home life, coaching, school, and so forth, but because we are taken away so much we have to make it count when we are there."
"Whatever I did and whatever I do, I do it with excellence," Hale said. "You can see me as whatever you want to see me as, I do it with excellence, and you can't deny me that. When someone says, you're a girl or a female and you can't do this or that, that doesn't bother me, I'm not going to allow other people's personalities and their thought processes question who I am and what I bring to the table. I know who I am and what I bring to the table and you should too."