FORT KNOX, Kentucky (April 15, 2019) - The U.S. Army 3rd Recruiting Brigade hosted three days of empowerment and engagement with a focus on women's leadership in the Army March 26-28. The Women's Leadership Forum showcased to the public strong women Soldiers, as well as the opportunities and diversity the Army offers. Col. Eric Lopez, 3rd Recruiting Brigade commander, and Brigade Event Coordinator, Maj. Melissa Miller, facilitated the event, with the theme: Recruit, Retain and Promote.
Day one of the forum started with 260 female high school students in the Junior U.S. Army Cadet Command (ROTC) program and their chaperones from schools in the Kentucky area.
Keynote speaker, Command Sgt. Maj. Tabitha Gavia, United States Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) Command Sergeant Major, opened the event by giving a roaring, "GIRL POWER!"
"We are celebrating women who are visionaries, women who are trail blazers. Women who are brave, bold and fearless," Gavia said.
Gavia gave recognition to past, future and present Army females, and women who impacted history. Her message to the students was to consider the military and the strong women who came before them, and not to lose sight of the contributions and value women have made to this country and around the world.
The students were next invited to look to the sky to see a skydiving demonstration by the U.S. Army Golden Knights female parachute team.
"People have these misperceptions about the Army," Lopez said. "These students now see the Soldiers who jumped out of that plane are wives, moms, sisters … they're members in their community … We need to show a different perspective of the Army. These students saw that today."
The students also got to see a women's Army Combat Fitness team demonstration. Members of the team, Capt. Danica Goodheart, Sgts. 1st Class Celina Flores and Leilani Hartley, Audra Rose, and Staff Sgt. Melissa Torres, demonstrated the Army's new physical fitness test showing endurance, speed and strength. The students and chaperones were given the opportunity to test their skills with the team before moving to Waybur Theater for panel discussion with female Soldiers.
On day two, the forum continued at the Saber and Quill where the audience of Fort Knox and 3rd Recruiting Brigade female Soldiers were treated to a venue of prominent women guest speakers to include Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center--Training, who did a podcast to the group.
Gervais spoke about her military experiences and some of the barriers she overcame to rise in the ranks. When asked what qualities she would look for when recruiting women for the Army, Gervais said she would first look for the same kind of qualities that the Army would look for and want in any Soldier -- male or female.
"We want someone who wants to be part of the team…who wants something bigger than themselves. We want somebody who has commitment and drive," Gervais said. "The other piece is, we want someone who understands the demands that will be placed on them. Being a Soldier is demanding, and they have to understand that coming in. We want the best."
Published author, Col. (Ret.) Jo Rusin, Move to the Front, and Women on Your Team, also spoke of her military experiences. Rusin held various leadership positions during her career, and was the Army's most senior woman commander to lead a brigade during the Gulf War.
"Life is an obstacle course and the Army is an obstacle course," Rusin said. "Sometimes you just stand alone, and everything is going good - life is going good. Then, sometimes you run into obstacles and you have to climb that rope…go over that wall…go through that mud crawl…whatever it is -- you just have to do it."
She told the audience to learn how to network - to reach out and prepare for that next job, and the next command.
Brig. Gen. Jill Faris, Deputy Surgeon General, Army National Guard, also spoke on career progression through the ranks.
Faris shared career advice with the audience and also used a slideshow of a family trip to Kenya to illustrate how she integrated military and family life.
"I can honestly say to you, that the Army that I joined, is not the Army that I'm in today," said Faris. "I only understand the Army because I am a woman in the Army. We usually lead in efforts, and I can see so many changes and a lot of growth since I came in."
Break-out sessions on topics related to military and civilian work issues with topics such as, unconscious bias and overcoming stereotypes; mentorship versus sponsorship; relationships in the workplace; and primary care takers, closed activities for the day.
The 3rd Recruiting Brigade partnered with the University of Louisville to conduct the last day of the Women's Leadership Forum at the campus Student Activity Center.
Dr. Neelia Bendapudi, the first female president at the University of Louisville, welcomed the audience which consisted of U of L students, administrators and 3rd Recruiting Brigade Soldiers.
"As somebody who has been given the gift of citizenship in this country, early on I decided that the only way that I could repay this country, was to serve those who serve us," said Bendapudi, who noted the U of L is very competitive as far as reducing costs and barriers for the military to attend campus undergraduate and graduate programs.
Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, commanding general of the Army's prestigious Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, also spoke.
"I want to encourage women to dream big and forge a path through any obstacle to achieve their full potential," Martin said. "I hope each woman will set her own goals and reach for them with gusto, and hope each man will do his part to support women in the work place and at home, also with the same gusto."
When asked what advice she would give to career women 'who want it all,' Martin summed it up by saying, "You can have it all….you can have a successful marriage, a successful career, have children who flourish in society…it's all possible."
Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes, closed out the day's speakers. Grimes related how having strong women in her life taught her that women have to first help themselves, to put into action what they want to do, and to not let negative voices deter them from their goals.
"(That and women) need to reach down and help somebody else, and become that system of support," Grimes said. "Be the boot that helps to kick open a space so that another woman can sit at the table."