By David Ruderman, USAG Vicenza Public AffairsNovember 29, 2012
VICENZA, Italy - Sometimes the boss can shake things up.
That's what happened when IMCOM Commander, Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, visited Vicenza in August and asked what the community was doing to support single females on overseas tours.
"He actually threw a curve ball by saying, OK, so what are you doing for the most vulnerable members of the community?" said Julia Sibilla, community programs and relocation readiness manager with USAG Vicenza ACS.
One repercussion is the community's first ever Female to Female networking social, to be held next Thursday, Dec. 6, from 4-6 p.m. at the Golden Lion.
"This program is preventative in nature. We're creating an environment where females feel safe and welcome," said USAG Vicenza health promotion officer Mickie McNamara.
"Single females, young females, whether officers, enlisted or civilians who come to an overseas assignment, maybe as a first tour of duty, they have special needs and concerns," said Sibilla.
"That's probably where Mickie and I took off with this," she said. "It is not necessarily a 20-year-old girl who is insecure. It can be a 30-year-old lieutenant in Afghanistan or someone with a professional background, but the common denominator that we're trying to fight is the alienation that comes with an overseas assignment."
The Female to Female event, also known as F2F, will be a proactive, community-based initiative to create a nurturing social environment that puts single women, whether Soldiers or civilians, at ease, builds a positive sense of community and engagement, and empowers them to thrive, she said.
A certain degree of alienation and vulnerability is part and parcel of any overseas assignment to start with, said Sibilla.
"When you add to that that you've never been out of your home state, might be a little insecure, you have a new boss or co-workers you're just getting to know, it's a set-up for all kinds of things," she said.
"We want the newcomers, the single females, to feel welcome in our community. We want them to feel like they have options here."
"We're going to start off with an icebreaker," said McNamara, and Outdoor Rec and the Vicenza Community Club will make presentations on programs targeted toward single women.
The keynote speaker will be Ifat Levine, a community member who was the first female to serve as an Israel Defense Forces combat battalion officer, which should be quite a draw given the intended audience, said McNamara.
"When I speak to incoming females about the upcoming F2F kick-off event they get excited because they're new here and are keenly interested in the female experience in the military, especially women in combat roles. The response throughout the community has been very positive," she said.
The event is open to all and no reservations are necessary. Sibilla said she is hoping for a crowded house.
"We're going to err on the side of 'Let's have too many people,' because that would show the community that we need to do something like this. We're not going to be exclusive. If somebody really wants to come, they're invited to come. We want this to energize our community," she said.
"Col. Buckingham really wanted us to respond to General Ferriter and do something in our community," said Sibilla.
The F2F next week will be the first installment. Stop by to build a supportive community and stay tuned for more.
F2F Keynote speaker: Ifat Levine
"Every time I mention I'm from Israel, people are really curious to hear about Israel, and the IDF of course," said Ifat Levine, mother of two and the wife of U.S. Army Public Health Command deputy commander, Maj. Matt Levine.
Military service is compulsory in Israel and applies to both women and men.
"It's mandatory," said Levine. "In fact Israel is the only state in the world that requires military service from women. Everyone grows up knowing you're going to join the military when you're 18. It's part of who you are and who you're going to be, and it's going to affect the rest of your life," she said.
"One day I was a student, getting ready for my finals, and a week later I was wearing a uniform. Just like that."
Levine, who is still an infantry battalion reserve officer, served from 2000 to 2004, starting out with a nine-month training course that earned her the rank of lieutenant.
"My officer basic course was the first to combine females and males: the opportunities once reserved only for men were now open to the best candidate," she said. She started with a group of 19 women of whom five graduated, and she was the only female selected for assignment in an infantry battalion, a job previously open only to males.
"There were 600 people; I was the only female," she said.
The then Lieutenant Ifat Alkobi comes from a family of three sisters and one brother, all of whom have served or will serve in the IDF. Both her parents served in the military in their day as well.
"The first reaction after learning I was assigned to the infantry, I remember this very clearly, was 'We raised three girls thinking we don't have to worry about you going into combat.' They were really proud. They were worried, but they were really supportive," she recalled.
Levine's service coincided with the civil strife known as the second intifada, and her unit saw action in the Gaza Strip. Things were crazy, stressful and exhausting, but the jolt of shared purpose and working with excellent colleagues made it exciting and rewarding as well, she said.
Her performance as a combat officer was exemplary and Levine was recognized with Israel's highest honor, a presidential award, which she received from President Moshe Katzav in 2002.
"It wasn't easy, but it worked and I'm grateful for that opportunity I had," said Levine. "The idea is just to recognize opportunities . . . to try to achieve the most you can wherever you are: that's the most important," she said.
Levine will go into detail during her presentation at the Female 2 Female event.
"I guess I'm just going to tell my story. Explain a little bit how I got there, what I've done," she said.