Women's Leadership Symposium a success

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Laura Turner
  • 310th Space Wing Public Affairs


Maj. Gen. Nina Armango had a vision. She wanted to bring together women from all walks of life, serving in different occupations across the Air Force, and offer them an opportunity to learn about leadership. She also wanted to create an opening for mentorship and comradery to thrive.


The Women’s Leadership Symposium, held on Peterson AFB March 7th and 8th, provided that opportunity to 80+ women from several different bases. The itinerary consisted of a diversity and leadership panel, mentorship group discussions, and multiple motivational speakers.


“The value of these couple of days we’re about to encounter together is really each other,” said Armagno, currently the Director of Strategic Plans, Programs, Requirements and Analysis, Headquarters Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. “The value of the exchange of getting to know each other and listening to the speakers in these panels, it really is beneficial. And the value of us being together is just absolutely incredible.”


During her speech, titled ‘Finding Inspiration,’ Armagno referenced Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms (retired), who served as an astronaut for NASA and became the first U.S. military woman to go into space. Helms graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy with the first class that included women cadets. She and her female counterparts became known as the ‘Eighties Ladies,’ becoming well-known for the path they forged in today’s Air Force.


“One thing that brought the Eighties Ladies together,” said Armagno, “is that they were determined to graduate and show the world that women could do this. That female cadets were just as capable as male cadets.”


Common topics that arose during the leadership panel were communication in the work place, trusting your peers, setting priorities for yourself and being the best that you can be. Dr. Mary Kelly, former Navy commander and the CEO of Productive Leaders, challenged participants to set a high standard within their work environment.


“We have to confront bad behavior, and that, folks, is hard,” said Kelly. “Why is it hard? Because it leads to some form of confrontation. But when times are tough, that’s when our folks really need us.”


While encouraging a high standard, Kelly also encouraged women leaders to recognize the individuals within their organization who go the extra mile.


“Even with participation trophies, we’re a nation of individuals who don’t feel rewarded enough,” said Kelly. “That need to be needed and appreciated is huge. You as a leader can praise for effort and reward for results.”


Col. DeAnna Burt, 50th Space Wing commander, spoke the second day of the conference about her recent achievement becoming the first non-kinetic operator to be the Red Flag 16-3 Air Expeditionary Wing commander at Nellis AFB.


“To be a good leader, you have to step up and step out of your lane,” said Burt. “Leadership isn’t about a career field. It’s about taking those leadership skills and applying them. We are breaking boundaries across our Air Force, and that’s important. What’s also important is that we’re doing it together, as a team.”


As each guest speaker shared their leadership opportunities and experiences, a common theme surfaced. While welcoming the appreciation of what they bring to the table in today’s Air Force, most of the leaders expressed a distaste for their gender being the center of attention.


“I don’t want people to look at me as the first female to do ‘whatever,’” said Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Erb, 377th Security Forces Group, in her closing remarks. “I want them to call me Chief Erb. That’s all that should matter.”


The final discussion of the conference revolved around finding a balance between family and career. Col. Amy Momber, AFSPC Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, provided a few tips on balance.


“Sometimes you have to give more to the Air Force, and sometimes you have to give more to your family,” said Momber. “The trick is recognizing those points in your career and seizing them. Create personal priorities, and then communicate those priorities to your leadership and your family.”


At the conclusion of the two-day conference, Armagno asked the crowd if they had enjoyed the event and was met with enthusiastic applause around the room. Maj. Gen. Catherine Chilton, mobilization assistant to the commander, AFSPC, expressed gratitude for Armagno’s idea to host the leadership symposium.


“One person I’d especially like is Gen. Armagno,” said Chilton. “It was her idea to put this together and it was her passion that brought about this event.”