Military Women Need to be Visible Examples

  • Published
  • By Brig. Gen. Allyson Solomon
  • 175th JFHQ
As we approach Veterans Day in 2012, there's a lot on my mind. I am privileged that this will be a day on, not a day off for me. On Veterans Day, I will participate in the Women Veterans Rock rally at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) Theater in Washington, D.C. This event is designed to support military women and veterans.

The last 10 years have fundamentally changed women's position within the military. According to the Pew Research Center, since the advent of the all-volunteer force in 1973, the percentage of enlisted women has grown from 2 percent to 14 percent, while the percentage of female officers has gone from 4 percent to 16 percent. Today, women are the fastest growing single demographic slice of the veteran population.

Obviously, this points to a need to address women-specific veteran issues. While research has shown that male and female veterans face many of the same issues, it is equally true that there are concerns that are more prevalent in one gender or the other.

Because men have traditionally made up the bulk of our armed forces, many of the issues specific to men already fall under the umbrella of recognized "veterans' issues." As women become an ever-larger proportion of our military, it is important that we raise awareness of woman-specific issues as well. And that means that women service members and veterans, especially leaders, need to be visible and engaged.

One of the best ways we can do this is by having leaders at all levels who understand the issues that servicewomen and female veterans face. The increasing presence of women in the officer and NCO corps is certainly helpful in this regard, but numbers alone aren't enough.

Women need to take up the challenge of visible leadership. We need to be visible, accessible role models to both women and men: women need to see examples of strong, successful professional female Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines that they can emulate.

By the same token, our experiences, perspectives and ideas are every bit as valuable to our male colleagues. Just as women have learned and grown through the efforts of male officers and NCOs, so men can grow by learning from the women with whom they serve - most critically in understanding the issues their female peers and subordinates face.

Fortunately, the two are not mutually exclusive. By mentoring and nurturing the people around us, both male and female, we are not only meeting our obligations as leaders, but providing the role models essential for the next generation of military women.