Washington, D.C. - Amid the vibrant chatter and tinkling of laughter that floats through the mammoth halls of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in our bustling nation's capital, sits a quiet woman waiting to receive a national-level award.
Martha Wilkins, U.S. Army North Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer (EPLO) Program Manager, waits patiently to be recognized as one of the 2019 Joint Women's Meritorious Service Award recipients at the Joint Women's Leadership Symposium hosted by the Sea Service Leadership Association.
Her career began in the Cold War era. Then, she was a commissioned officer serving in a NATO Special Weapons unit. Partnered with the Dutch and French armies, she credits this assignment as her first cross-cultural interaction and a peek inside some of the trials that women in uniform faced. "This was the early 90s and it was interesting to see the role that women played, or didn't, in their ranks. It was a challenge to be a female officer providing training and leadership in a culture that was not used to having women in leadership roles," said Wilkins.
Understanding she could make a difference, Wilkins decided to give back. "Once I achieved the grand rank of Captain, I tried to mentor female Lieutenants about boundaries, conduct, and preventing and responding to sexual harassment," she said. An advocate for both men and women, Wilkins adds that it is important to set an example of how to treat everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of gender, rank, color or creed.
Years later in Afghanistan, she was asked to be a guest speaker at a Women's Equality event on her forward operating base. There, Wilkins says her message was simple, "thoughts become words, words become deeds, and they all define how a person is perceived and treated." Over the years, Wilkins has repeated that mantra time and again.
Since 9/11, Wilkins has served in various roles ranging from supporting the Homeland Defense Division at U.S. Army Forces Command to standing up Civil Support Teams. In her current job at U.S. Army North, she works with EPL Officers and Defense Coordinating Officers throughout the U.S. to support contingency operations. Here, Wilkins shines and is recognized throughout her command for her initiative, commitment to the mission and servant leadership. All the qualities of a JWLS award candidate.
The JWLS Meritorious Service Award is a prestigious honor that recognizes nominees who exemplify a personal and professional commitment to leadership, mentoring and equality in the ranks. It is bestowed annually at the JWLS; a three-day professional development session dedicated to providing networking, educational and mentoring opportunities to women from all services. This year marks the 32nd annual JWLS event. Fitting, as Wilkins celebrates just as many years of being a good teammate.
When asked who her greatest influences were, she credits God, her mom and wise women along the way. "You have to surround yourself with positive people who share common goals and values. I used to run at lunch with two other female majors. It wasn't a race. They wouldn't let me apologize for being the slowest runner; they told me it was about doing the run together and supporting each other. Life is not a race; it is a team event. Be the teammate and trust in God."