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HERstory in the making

Sharon Lau, director of the Army and Air Force Equal Employment Opportunity Office, right, reviews the caseload with Tech Sgt. Dustyn White, equal opportunity specialist with 627th Air Base Group March 4 at JBLM. Photo credit: Talysa Lloyd McCall

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD - Women have long been a fighting force in every aspect of life. Their contributions to history, culture and society have been observed annually in the month of March in the U.S. since 1987.

"The military has made great strides to create equality amongst genders, but there is still more to do," said Joy Fowlkes, Joint Base Lewis-McChord's chief of safety since 2018.

At JBLM, many women are paving the way for others and leaving their mark on the base's history. There are currently seven female chiefs/directors at JBLM. Those women are:

  • Heather Albright - director, Directorate of Personnel and Family Readiness
  • Pam Campbell - chief, Civilian Personnel Advisory Center
  • Joy Fowlkes - chief, Safety Office
  • Sharon Lau - chief, Army and Air Force Equal Employment Opportunity Office
  • Venicia Morse - director, Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation
  • Michelle Nolasco - chief, Resource Management Office
  • Amy Ridgeway - director, Network Enterprise Center

After military service, female veterans - like many of those listed above - use the skills and experiences they gained in the military to achieve milestones in their careers, contribute to their communities and become leaders across industries.

"After I retired after 20 years in the Air Force, I wanted to use the skills I acquired to serve on the civilian side," Lau said. "I've learned how to break down and get over barriers that I saw. You must be willing to put yourself out there. Make sure you're not only heard but listened to."

Women's History Month originally began in 1978 as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women's Day. Congress passed additional resolutions in 1987 requesting and authorizing the president to proclaim March of each year as Women's History Month.

More than 200,000 women serve on active duty in the U.S. military. The contributions of women to military history cannot be ignored.

In 2021, the highest-ranking woman in the Department of Defense is Kathleen Hicks. She was confirmed by Congress as deputy defense secretary and is the first woman in that role.

Progress in empowering women in leadership positions has been made over the last year, as reported by the DOD.

"I've been around for a long time," Fowlkes said. "I did 20 years active duty in the Air Force, and now I am retiring from the civilian workforce after 20 years. I've seen the effort and growth opportunities presented to female employees and service members."

The courage and determination of all women who serve or have served can provide a guiding light to other women during their journeys in the military and government.

"As a female leader, there are times when we have to stand our ground no matter how it may appear to others," said Michelle Nolasco, resource management officer for JBLM. "There's a stigma that because of what we have to overcome as women that we are not as efficient as men in leadership roles. I make sure that if I'm in the room, I am prepared. I know my stuff, I'm ready to answer questions, and I'm ready to speak up on topics that involve me or my office."

Women have honorably served in the military for generations and continue to break barriers even today.

"The things that women get looked at for being weak are actually the things that make us that much stronger," Morse said. "Women who learn to balance all the hats they wear are the women who make the greatest leaders; we're each making our own history."

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