MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Chatter filled the room as female Marines of all ranks and ages, each with their own experiences and struggles. A few of their male counterparts joined them, scattered throughout the audience.
An energetic, lively woman stood in the front and gathered everyone’s attention to start the event.
“Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the 2017 Hunger for Strength Symposium,” opened Lt. Adrienne Benton, the chaplain for Marine Aircraft Group 39.
MAG-39’s Women’s Leadership and Education committee hosted Hunger for Strength at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Aug. 30. It began with introductions and an overview by Benton and Guadalupe Wanstreet, both hosts of the event.
Executive officer of MAG-39, Lt. Col. Louis Simon, thanked the attendees and explained the importance of women in the Marine Corps and how this event can help them achieve success, even in the midst of struggles.
“It’s very difficult to change the system but it’s less difficult to look at yourself and ask ‘how can I make myself bloom where I’m planted?’" said Simon. “That’s a lesson we need to tell everyone from private to four-star general: ‘how can I make myself successful?’”
The symposium started in 2015 with the idea of providing Marines and Sailors an opportunity to gain tools, which will enable them to thrive and grow in their work environment.
“The only way for us to get better as a Marine Corps, as a Navy, as a nation, is for you to take it to the next level as the future of the military,” said Simon. “Take these lessons, grow where you can and you will be a success.”
The event was designed with the intent to strengthen the force by encouraging the participants to network with like-minded people, find and take advantage of mentorship and understand their value and sense of purpose.
“When we looked at some challenges Marines are facing in the workplace, we realized part of it is the interaction between the two genders and part of it is a conflict when it comes to self-value and self-purpose,” continued Benton. “The committee came together to target the female population and the males [to] blend and create situations where we can work together and learn together.”
The event hosted speakers from all walks of life, including active duty, enlisted and officer, retirees, civilians, pastors, and male senior leaders.
“There’s such a mix of the Marine Corps here today, and they have so many voices, experiences and insights to provide,” said Capt. Ayleah Alejandre, MAG-39 safety officer. “So as leaders it is on us to capture that, and ensure that our leadership and the command understand how wonderful and unique these Marines are and how much they bring to the fight in their own very unique and distinct ways.”
The senior leaders who attended the conference recognized the importance of looking back and helping the junior Marines connect with someone who has achieved the goals they want to achieve: getting promoted, becoming a drill instructor and handling personal struggles through it all.
“Once you’ve achieved a goal, it’s so easy to pat yourself on the back and move on to what’s next without looking behind you and realizing someone else is going to follow that path. It’s on us to share that experience and make it easy for those behind us,” said Capt. Alejandre.
“It’s nice to see as a senior leader it is getting to the lower levels, and they are reaching out,” said Master Sgt. Sheryl Wilhoit, 1st Marine Logistics Group operations chief. “It’s awesome to see this all come together so [the Marines] can see what questions they should be asking, who they should be talking to and what kind of goals they should be setting – what’s going to make them achieve their greatness, whatever that may be.”
Attendants learned the benefit of improving relationships with their female co-workers and how important those relationships can be later in life, which was pointed out by a retired Marine who spoke at the symposium.
These ladies should learn the relationships they start building now can help carry them and help them grow throughout life, said Amy Valdes, a retired Marine and the CEO of her own company. “It’s the network, the family, the friendships that you build to get you to where you need to go.”
Lance Cpl. Nicole Autio, expeditor at Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 775, said she recognized her potential during the event and learned there are some ways to improve her unit for the better.
“You can teach old dogs new tricks,” said Autio. “Everyone can learn a new way of mentoring, leading and doing things that should be done versus how they have been done. It’s important that change comes from those we surround ourselves with.”
Maj. Anthony Alejandre, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing avionics officer, spoke at the event, recalling a time where he was not supportive of female Marines but hopes events like this happen more often and empower female Marines to use their voices.
“There was a time when they had a voice but no one was hearing it,” recounted Maj. Alejandre. “Now you have a voice and you need to use it; you should feel empowered to use it.”