In 2000, the United Nations developed the Women’s Peace and Security (WPS) initiative fully recognizing the need for women to be included as a critical factor in achieving sustainable international peace and security. In full support of WPS, the Colombian army hosted a WPS panel discussion alongside U.S. Soldiers on Nov. 16, 2022 at the conclusion of Exercise Southern Vanguard 23 at Tolemaida Military Base, Colombia.
Colombian army Sgt. Maj. Astrid Rubio Acosta, senior enlisted panel member and first female to hold the rank of sergeant major to serve in the Colombian army, used her opening remarks to provide words of encouragement to those in attendance speaking to the importance of setting goals and not allowing gender to get in the way of achieving those goals.
“Today, you must be fully convinced that you can do whatever it is you set out to do in your life,” she said. “It’s up to you to pave your own way and take your goals and find ways to achieve these goals.”
U.S. Army Maj. Kyle Ullmark, executive officer for the Illinois National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, followed this by speaking to the importance leaders have in empowering their junior leaders and raising their confidence level to help them succeed both during their time in service as well as when they decide to move on to a new career outside of the military.
Colombian Women’s Day, which was celebrated just two days prior to the panel, is an annual celebration of women’s achievements in the country and recognizing women who serve as inspirations to the public. Commander of the Colombian National Army, Maj. Gen. Luis Mauricio Ospina Gutiérrez took a moment during his panel remarks to acknowledge one of his inspirations to continue serving.
“Sergeant Major Rubio, who is sitting on this panel with me, is one of the main examples that has been able to break the taboo of women serving in leadership roles as she is the first female to serve as a sergeant major in our army,” said Ospina. “It is because of her setting the example that new students at the NCO academy know now more than ever that anything is possible in their career.”
Leaders such Rubio and Lieutenant Katherine Romero, the Colombian army’s first female Huey II pilot who served as an aviation leader throughout Exercise Southern Vanguard 23, are certain to inspire soldiers for generations to come which many women did not have in the past.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Michelle Martinez, Commander of U.S. Army South’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, recalled how her journey in the Army started with her having a small selection of female leaders to look up to.
“When I joined the Army 25 years ago, I did not think I would make to the position that I am,” she said. “Out of ten lieutenant colonels approximately four are selected for battalion command and of those four maybe one is a female but now the times have changed and the doors are open.”
Martinez continued by acknowledging how U.S. Southern Command’s Commanding General, Gen. Laura Richardson, is an inspiration and is paving the way for females serving in the Army today, including herself, to know that they can truly achieve anything they set their heart and mind to.
With more than 100 countries throughout the world including many who are not U.N. member nations currently having an implemented National Action Plan the importance of WPS on a global level cannot be overlooked and this panel is a small event that had a big impact on everyone in attendance.