SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- U.S. Marines with I Marine Expeditionary Force attended the Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium at the San Diego Convention Center, June 21 – 22, 2018. The annual symposium is the largest gathering of women in uniform in the world and brought together women and men from all branches of the U.S. services and 20 other countries.
“Participation in the symposium was advertised in a MARADMIN a few months ago,” said 1st Lt. Jacqueline Barnum, company commander of Combat Service Support Company, I Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion. “I saw the message and thought it would be a great opportunity for Marines of I MEF Support Battalion to come together and participate in an event that would be empowering, educational, and inspiring.”
The first day of the symposium offered attendees the opportunity to mingle with those from other services and countries during joint service and international discussions and panels.
“Today the goal is for you to learn more about yourselves, your service and your battle buddies across the services,” said Lt. j.g. Corinne Powers, U.S. Coast Guard, during the opening remarks. “You’re going to have the chance to hear from expert panelists on military women’s health, international policies that affect female service members, and, above all, leadership.”
Panelists and speakers, which included leaders from I MEF, took questions from the audience at the end of each session to foster discussion and encourage participation.
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Elizabeth Reeves, Preventive Medicine Officer, I Marine Expeditionary Force, represented Navy medicine and I MEF during the health and wellness panel and answered questions about women’s health, pharmaceutical needs and parental leave. Many attendees expressed concerns about the effects of maternity leave, post-partum recovery and fertility issues on retention.
The first day focused on issues affecting women across the services such as being the only or first woman in an all-male unit, while the second day split attendees up by the individual branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and U.S. Coast Guard. The Marine Corps session included presentations on the current state of 4th Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, the efforts to create recruiting advertisements that encourage women to join and the benefits of a mixed gender team.
“We’ve got to start talking about diversity as tools in our tool box,” said Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds, commanding general of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace Command and former commanding officer of I MEF Headquarters Group, in her opening remarks. “I would never try to build anything with nothing but a hammer. I need all of the tools available to me.”
The second day also included a leadership breakout session, splitting up the officers and enlisted to listen to guidance from and ask questions of senior officer and enlisted Marines.
“It helped me to hear about how they, as young Marines, started and what they had to go through and what obstacles they had to overcome, because I deal with some of the same obstacles now,” said Cpl. Angeline Prakelt, I MSB, I MEF, about the senior enlisted panel. “Them sharing their knowledge and how they got through it is going to help me in my future.”
Col. Dawn Alonso, commanding officer of I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, spoke on the senior officer panel, answering questions from junior and general officers alike including a discussion on how, as leaders, they can work to eliminate gender bias.
“Gender bias and misogynistic behavior is not just a culture,” said Alonso. “It’s not a Marine Corps culture, this is part of society. This is about people’s upbringing and understanding of the world, and I think that how we eliminate it is that you have to eliminate it on your own when you encounter it.”
Alonso said the best way to counter bias is to educate those whose perception is colored by their own views and to actively counter the stereotypes against female Marines. One way that was expressed throughout the two days was to encourage attendance at the symposium by male service members.
“I would definitely recommend this to other Marines, including male Marines,” said Prakelt. “They need to know how they impact us as they are key to helping with our struggles.”
This year was the first time I MSB Marines have been in attendance at the symposium though most expressed an interest in attending it and similar events in the future.
“I listen to the young Marines talk about how maybe they didn’t want to go, didn’t know what it was about but when they came here they’re happy they did,” said Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner, sergeant major of Marine Corps Forces Systems Command.
Next year’s Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium is planned to take place in Washington D.C. Visit https://www.facebook.com/WomensSymposium/ for more information.