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TRANSCRIPT: U.S. Africa Command Celebrates Women's History Month
U.S. Africa Command celebrated Women's History Month with a panel discussion at the command's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany March 27, 2009. Nine women spoke on the role women play in the command as well as the contributions and
U.S. Africa Command celebrated Women's History Month with a panel discussion at the command's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany March 27, 2009. Nine women spoke on the role women play in the command as well as the contributions and accomplishments of women in American society.

Panel speakers included:

Ambassador Mary C. Yates, deputy to the commander for civil-military activities;

Lieutenant Colonel Laura Varhola, Strategy, Plans and Programs Directorate;

Maha Witherington, deputy chief of protocol;

Maria Tamburri, chief of strategic communication in the Outreach Directorate;

Master Sergeant Donna L. Davies, command paralegal manager for the Office of Legal Counsel;

Lieutenant Colonel Stephanie Jung, deputy branch chief of psychological operations for the Operations and Logistics Directorate;

Yeoman Second Class Jessie Tvrdy, Yeoman to the Commander;

Gabriele Tyler, special assistant to the director of Operations and Logistics;

Diana Putman, chief of the Humanitarian Assistance Branch, Security Cooperation Programs Division, Strategy, Plans and Programs Directorate;

Below is the transcript of the event:

LIEUTENANT COLONEL LAURA VARHOLA: (In progress) -- and you know, I want to just reiterate that because from my experience living in Africa, as a defense attache, talking with other African women in the military, you know, a lot of times women are not able to proceed up to higher ranks, not because they're not capable, but because the social system doesn't allow for them to be able to do those things, such as childcare. I couldn't do what I'm doing without the military's CDC across the street, without joint domicile for my husband who I met on active duty in the career, we were able most of the time to get stationed together.

Women's health, medical, a lot of times in Africa, women-specific medical issues can't be addressed or adequately addressed within their medical system, so those are the kind of things that I think women, at least in Africa, struggle with to maintain, you know, at least maintain competitiveness with their fellow men.

So let's see if there are any other main things that I would like to say. And obviously, I have to end this real quickly. Couldn't have done it without the supportive husband. I mean, it's definitely a dual military. We have two small children and, of course, with TUIs and deployments, we could not have done it without a supportive military system and a supportive family system. So that's my career in a nutshell.

(Laughter, applause.)

MAHA WITHERINGTON: Good afternoon, teammates. My name is Maha -- (inaudible) -- Witherington. I'm the deputy chief of protocol for Africa Command. My career started -- I'm a native of Egypt, Alexandria, Egypt. And I started -- as you know, being a woman in Egypt, if you're married, your primary job is raise children. And I have done that after I finished my college degree, I earned my degree in English Literature. I did a lot of volunteer work when I was in Egypt and my first real job was with the United States embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and this was back in 1979 - '88 - 1979 - '89.

After -- while at the embassy, I met my husband. In 1990, I had to make a big decision in my life. And my husband is from United States and we moved together to the United States. His assignments took us to a lot of countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. We had an assignment, as a matter of fact, in Egypt. I started my civil service career in 1992. I have 17 years of service. And my first assignment as a civilian working for Department of Defense was in Saudi Arabia in 1992. I was the -- (inaudible) -- secretary for the United States military training mission. And I was in charge of our deployed soldiers who would come to Saudi Arabia for six months deployment. I was able to translate and help them in a system with -- inaudible-- them to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Unfortunately, in 1996, a big decision had to be made in my life and this had also a big impact on my career because I had mandatory to leave the kingdom of Saudi Arabia due to security issues. I left at that time without my husband because he had to stay there and I had to continue my career back in the United States with three children. I wasn't really very familiar with the United States, but I promised myself that I would continue my career and I will raise the kids and I will not make them miss the absence of their father.

My career in the United States took me to the Department of Veterans Affairs. I worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs and I was working for the chief of medical services. I learned another side of the department and away from the military, which I really had enjoyed six years working for the Army.

I have served in six different countries. I served in Egypt, Saudi Arabia -- (inaudible) -- Germany, Saudi Arabia again, and, of course, I served the continental United States. My jobs took me, as I decided to continue with my career, I started going up the ladder in my jobs and I went back to Saudi Arabia. And I was working for -- (inaudible) -- Saudi Arabia. I was the -- (inaudible) -- officer and the office manager for -- (inaudible) -- Saudi Arabia. It was very, very nice assignment.

Back to the United States, where again I worked for Army materiel command. I enjoyed that assignment very much and I was working then at -- (inaudible). From there, my job took me to another assignment in -- (inaudible) -- Italy, where I had the honor and the pleasure to serve at SETAF headquarters, Southern European Task Force, for five years. After that, I moved on and this was really the honor I received, I was selected to be a member of headquarters department of the Army at the Pentagon.

My first assignment at the Pentagon was with Army G-2 and it was a pleasure. Working for Army G-2 for about a year-and-a-half taught me a lot and also gave me the opportunity to meet and to be able to translate and escort, because this is the time when I was able to maintain my top secret clearance.

After I served at Army Headquarters, Army G-2, I moved to Arlington National Cemetery and this was an assignment that I will never ever forget. For a year, I worked serving our wonderful soldiers and honored them in Arlington. And from there, I was called again to go back to headquarters CA and work for OCNM, Army Congressionals. I was the coordinator for Army Congressionals and I stayed there for about a year and then from there my opportunity to come and work at Africa Command called. And I was extremely honored to come here and establish and start a new command.

Quickly, I want to tell everyone here in this room that I won't tell you that everything throughout my career was easy. But there were difficulties. But it's our strength, our patience, and our belief is what makes us go through and, honestly, for me, is what made me where I am today. I was able -- going back in my career, there were difficulties, but on the other hand, we cannot say that difficulties -- success comes without difficulties. So just my -- and also raising children, a family, also makes us mobile with our careers. So I was able to raise the children and to fulfill my commitment to the United States Army and to DOD in general. And I'll leave it here and, hopefully, throughout the course of the panel, if you have questions, I'll be more than happy to answer. Thank you.

(Applause.)

MARIA TAMBURRI: Hi, my name is Maria Tamburri. And I'm really honored to be here, surrounded by such accomplished and successful women. I'm just going to talk briefly about my background. I'm originally from Argentina. I came to the United States when I was nine, so I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities, as Maha has said, that this country has given me. And I'm incredibly grateful to have been able to serve this country in my various capacities that I have throughout my career.

I was -- I love communications and I've always wanted to be a communications major and I decided to go to college and focus also on political science, because I always found that to be fascinating. Coming from Latin America, politics is always part of your life, so I figured that would be a good route that would encompass not only my communications skills, but also the fact that I have some political background. So I started my career interning for NBC in -- local NBC station in Miami and that was an amazing experience. Working for the Summit of the Americas in 1993, and that actually made my fascination of politics even more interesting just because the summit was a really incredibly opportunity to bring all Latin America together.

Then after that I decided to go to Washington, D.C., and where I worked in Congress for two-and-a-half years and was able to see the success or sometimes, you know, our challenges in Congress, and not only be able to look at the process where we do our budgets and where bills get passed and I thought that was just an incredible experience. I was able to work for judiciary committee and house government reform, which are two committees that do a lot of heavy lifting in the House of Representatives.

After that, I worked in various government agencies, I started in the government at EPA and then I went to, as one of the Hispanic spokespeople -- I also worked at HUD for Secretary Mel Martinez. And then I went to the White House and worked for three years as one of the spokespeople for President Bush, as well as I was the director of specialty media.

During that time, I focused mainly on speaking on the Hispanic community and also I did a lot of work with African-American media, as well as religious media and others. It was an amazing experience, obviously working at the White House, something that you will never forget and definitely it was seeing -- having worked in Congress and being at the White House, you really see how decisions are made and how, you know, all our policy comes together. And I thought that was fascinating.

After that, I worked at, as Denise mentioned, at State Department with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, where I was able to talk about our policies in Latin America. Being from Latin America, that was such an amazing experience because I got to travel to, not only Argentina where I'm originally from and other Latin American countries and talk about United States policies, really experience the amazing work that our government does in the region and everywhere.

And Ambassador Yates, I'm sure, is going to talk a lot about the work that State Department does, but -- and also the military, I worked very closely with SOUTHCOM and we were able to really change people's lives and having an opportunity to be there and see that was just incredible and it's an experience that I think I learned a lot from it. And it really creates a lot of humility in the sense of we have a wonderful country and, you know, we -- how honorable it is to work there, to work for the government.

I now -- I love my job. I'm division chief for -- (inaudible) -- communication at this command and one of the things that I found so fascinating and I hope that I bring to my current position is I have a background in Latin America, but yet some of the challenges that Africa has are somewhat similar and I really think that this command is going to make a huge difference in the lives of Africans, in the long term. And as General Ward talks about our enduring presence, I think it's going to be really important in the future.

What I've learned I think in my career, I think, is part of -- my parents are from Latin America and, you know, they've always had to work hard for what they have and we were taught since we were little that hard work would really pay off. I have been extremely fortunate to have tremendous mentors in my career that have really helped me and develop as a professional. I think for me, personally, being Hispanic, bilingual, and also I speak a couple of other languages, not very well, but has actually helped me, has really helped me to grow professionally and also has opened doors.

And I think my experience has been very positive. I mean, definitely there have been challenges. I had to work my way through college, so it took me a little longer than most people to graduate, but I always felt that that was an experience that made me stronger, versus actually not sort of putting me down in a certain way. I always believed in myself and felt that I could achieve any goal that I put myself -- in front of me. And I'm -- actually my biggest challenge now is that I'm going to have to learn -- I'm expecting a baby girl so I'm hoping that I can actually give her just the guidance from my experience and my background for her to be successful and not really hit any -- I mean, she'll hit the roadblocks in her life, but at least help her through them as she grows up. That's it, I think -- (inaudible, applause).

MASTER SERGEANT DONNA DAVIES: Good afternoon. My name is Master Sergeant Davies. And I work for the Office of Legal Counsel, I'm their command -- (inaudible) -- legal manager. I was born and raised in New Jersey to an attorney father and a homemaker mother and I am the oldest of five kids. I graduated in 1988 from West Milford Township High School and I enlisted in the Air Force in 1989. I enlisted after a year because I did try to go to college for a year. My parents, being the oldest did not want me to live on campus, so I had to live at home. As a 19-year-old girl, I felt that I knew what I was doing and I handled that -- and again, they expected differently, so after -- (laughter) -- after trying to negotiate with my parents, I determined that I wasn't going to win and I wanted to live on my own.

So, of course, I couldn't afford to live on my own and my only option to be independent was to join the Air Force, which I think was a great decision. I had planned to stay for four years and get out. Well, 20 years later, I'm still sitting here. (Applause.) When I chose to make the Air Force a career, my goal was 20 years and master sergeant, which, obviously, I've done. The first 10 years of my career, I was an inventory management specialist, which in laymen's terms is a supply technician. I worked both sides of the fence. I delivered parts to the flight line and I worked in the office.

After 10 years, the Air Force said, we don't need you anymore as a supply management technologist or technician, so you need to find another job. To my father's benefit -- I guess, my father's encouragement, I became a paralegal, which is good and bad because now that I'm -- well, he passed away when I was 25, but then it was, okay, now it's time for law school, which I'm still working on. (Laughter.) I've had eight assignments in 20 years and I've enjoyed every single one of them. I don't regret any of them.

I would say that my two most challenging assignments were Lackland Air Force base, which is where I came from. I was the NCOIC of the largest claims office in the Air Force as well as the NCOIC of the military justice section which is -- any of you that know anything about Lackland knows that that's where we go through basic training, so we have the most Article XVs and court martials in the military. (Laughter.) So my challenge there was everybody that worked for me was a brand new cross trainee out of different career fields. So I was the one other than the attorney with the most experience, which is definitely a challenge.

My second most challenging assignment has been being the paralegal manager for AFRICOM, not -- (inaudible, laughter) -- but it's been challenging in a good way.

MR: (Inaudible) â? Article XV?

(Laughter.)

MSGT. DAVIES: No, sir, no that is not -- (inaudible) -- I have -- I came from working claims and military justice to having to know everything about starting a new command or learning about starting a new command and international law and just start everything from the beginning, things everybody knows. The things we take for granted at an established base did not exist when I got here in September of 2007. So it's been the most challenging but it's probably one of the most rewarding assignments that I've had.

I've had good experiences, as I've said, but I've also had negative, but I turn my negative into positive. In 1989, when I came in, there was still a lot of beliefs from several different gentlemen that I ran into that women did not belong in the military and I was told on several different occasions, I was asked why I joined the military when I should be home literally having children and making my husband dinner. (Laughter.) I -- my father's Irish, so I had a very strong personality -- (laughter) -- so my mentality with that was, I'm not going to take that and I, if I felt I was wronged, I pushed through and I corrected those wrongs.

Now, that always -- that didn't always work out positively, because you're not always a champion of everybody when you point out that things are wrong. (Laughter.) But with my family's help, when I would call my parents and I would tell them what was going on, my dad and my mother would say, you were raised to be strong and you need to -- don't back down and you need to stand your ground. And that was -- I've always taken that advice and I've had supervisors that have encouraged that and I have had supervisors that have allowed me to express myself sometimes -- (laughter) -- however, I will tell people -- I will give my opinion anyway and if I'm told basically it's military -- (inaudible) -- shut up and color sometimes, then I will shut up and color, but I will put my opinion out there and I will press on, salute smartly and do what I'm told. (Laughter.)

One thing about being a female in the military and that I'm very proud of is that women have come a long way in 20 years. We've come a long way regardless whether you're in the military or DOD or Department of State and I'm proud to be sitting where I'm sitting. I have two small boys, eight and three, and my sons from a very young age have been told that women can do anything men can do. And my eight-year-old son told me that his daughter would be a fighter pilot, which -- (inaudible, laughter). So I'm proud that I'm making a difference with my family and hopefully young airmen and young soldiers, young marines, young sailors look at us here and see that if you have conviction and that you believe in something and you're not afraid to stand up, it's going to work out, it's going to work out for the best.

(Applause.)

LIEUTENANT COLONEL STEPHANIE JUNG: I also want to thank everyone for letting me have the honor of being a part of this special group to celebrate Women's History Month. A little bit on my background, I am the first generation in my family born in the USA. Both my parents were adopted from China. And it's sort of the reason why it led me to want to join the military. There were two things. My father's father who adopted him was an American soldier during World War II and I really enjoyed the stories and hearing about how proud he was to be an American soldier. The second thing is I grew up in Southern California in the post-Vietnam era where there was a lot of hatred for stuff that went on during Vietnam and there was a lot of Vietnamese settlers there and a lot of people told me everyday to go back to Vietnam and I kept saying, I'm an American.

And so based on my grandfather's stories and I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I'm just as American as everybody else, so by the time I went to college I decided to join the U.S. Army Reserves, enlisted as a soldier, as an admin specialist and I had a second qualification as driving -- I'm dating myself -- M939 five-ton truck for 968 supply and transportation company. By my junior and senior year -- (inaudible) -- had encouraged me to join the ROTC since I was already in college. I commissioned in the quartermaster corps, which is supply and during my -- (inaudible) -- time, I served in the first cavalry division, in the 10th mountain division, and the 21st air support command, which is in -- (inaudible) -- Germany.

And I had two tours in Bosnia, a tour in Kosovo, and a tour in Sierra Leone at that time, and I'll come back to that, because that wasn't a -- in 2003, I was picked up in a -- (inaudible) -- which is now a branch out of psychological operations and I commanded both detachment and the company command at Fort Bragg. During that time, I had a chance to go underway with the USS Nimitz and their support to OIF and I served at Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of Africa, for 13-and-a-half months.

I wanted to go back to Sierra Leone because that was probably my most memorable deployment. I served on the international military advisory training team, which is led by the U.K. and I was the first -- I was the second rotation, but the first rotation of the Americans that served in the -- (inaudible) -- I was the first one to be on the -- (inaudible) -- involved in the -- (inaudible) -- engagement and the first female. And why that was so memorable for me is that I had no idea what to expect from being in Africa. And the power of the American flag. When I was out there -- we were in Kenema, we covered from Kenema to the eastern border of Sierra Leone, Liberia, and we trained the third RSALF infantry brigade.

And every village, every soldier that would come up to you, they were confused because an American patch, I was an Asian, I was driving a British vehicle -- (laughter) -- and I don't think they had any idea that why was I wearing an American patch because they thought an American is -- I think they thought Americans were blonde-haired, blue eyes. I mean, they were really confused because they'd seen Chinese, you know, building structures and electricity and hydro-water, whatever, so I had to explain all the time that, no, I'm American. So that stuck with me and I never thought I'd end up back serving in Africa, but here I am.

My personal life lessons from being in the Army have always been, you've got to remain flexible because things change and so you can't get bent over changes, it happens daily in the military. You've got to be yourself. As someone said earlier, there is no right and wrong leadership. You can't try and pretend to be somebody else. You've just got to be yourself and if you do that, then you'll be successful.

And lead by example. You can't -- if you ask your soldiers or personnel to do something that you can't do yourself or know how to do yourself, so I've always lived by that. And be fair. And this has also been reinforced by many mentors and I think those simple guides and, then, of course, in the Army, we have our seven values. Use those to guide your thinking, behavior, professionalism. I don't think anyone can go wrong.

First, to tie into women's history, I'm proud to be part of the most equal opportunity U.S. military, I think, in the world. And I can't say that it's all smooth, but we all have, not just women, but we all have an equal opportunity to make it better if it isn't right and so I have seen that throughout the years. Things have evolved and things always get better. And I'm proud that, you know, our nation leads the way in that.

As a quartermaster, my successful observations that I've seen over the years, the current woman that you've all heard that just became the first female four-star general, she was one of my former bosses in the 10th mountain division, she was the first company -- she has a lot of firsts -- she was the first company commander in the rigor, commanded a rigor company in the 82nd airborne division, she was the first female battalion commander in the 82nd airborne division, she was the first brigade commander in the 18th airborne corps -- (inaudible) -- first four-star female general. So that was just awesome to see over the years.

And in psychological operations, the -- there's a female named Colonel Dorothea Burke, she was the first female battalion commander in our field and she is now the first organization under U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa to command an 06-level command. So I think there's a lot of changes over the years that have been very good for women -- (inaudible) -- and that's all I have to say.

(Applause.)

YN2 JESSIE TVRDY: Good afternoon, my name is YN2 Tvrdy. Like -- (inaudible) -- has already said, I work in -- (inaudible) -- office, up the street. I was very honored when -- (inaudible) -- asked me to be on the panel because next to the rest of the women on the panel, I don't think I've quite accomplished as much as they have, but hopefully some day I'll be able to get there.

I joined the military in 2001 during my junior year in high school. I knew the year before I left that I wanted to be in the military. After boot camp and -- (inaudible) -- school, I got orders to Korea and I remember calling my mom and telling her, mom, I don't even know where Korea is, they're sending me. (Laughter.) I served there -- (inaudible) -- commission, very interesting for somebody that's brand new in the military, brand new in the Navy because it was Army command. (Laughter.) So I learned a lot, but by the time I had transferred to my next command out of Lemoore, California, BFA 94, I checked in and I told my chief, I'm sorry, chief, I have no idea what the Navy's about -- (laughter, inaudible) -- so I really enjoyed my time re-learning what the Navy was about. I got to go onto -- (inaudible) -- seven months before I transferred to -- (inaudible) -- Germany. I worked in -- (inaudible) -- for a year-and-a-half before I was asked to come over to U.S. Africa Command.

I've been here now a year-and-a-half and I've really enjoyed my tour. I will be leaving next month to go to -- (inaudible) -- Kuwait. So I've definitely been -- I think for my little six years, I have a kind of diverse background. Commander Shorey asked us for our lessons learned. Some of my individual strengths that I think have really helped me make my -- (inaudible) -- years, would be independence, because there's many times that I never thought I could make it, but my mom reminded me always that as long as I stand strong with hard work and self-motivation, that I would make it. So I really consider my greatest mentor.

My advice to other women would be not to give up, to do what you feel you want to do. Don't let anybody tell you that you can't do anything. Like Master Sergeant Davies said, I believe that without the women that have made a difference in history, I wouldn't be able to be where I am today. I have never experienced anything that's hurt me personally from being a woman so I think that because of the women in the past that have made changes and made history that I've been able to accomplish things. That's all. Short speaker.

(Applause.)

GABRIEL TYLER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Gabriel Tyler. I am a senior fellow here at Africa Command, working in operations and logistics. My fellowship ends this summer. I was born over here in these parts in Austria. English is my second language. I spent 21 years at the -- (inaudible) -- Air Force. My career field was active Air Force services; it's a broad field that included -- (inaudible) -- fitness, mortuary, child development centers, MWR, clubs, and now protocol personnel manpower. I've had numerous deployments, including Desert Storm in support of Iraqi freedom.

In my opinion, my most important job, probably the most meaningful and difficult position was the Center for Mortuary Services at Dover, Delaware, taking care of our young men and women that have given their lives. I, along with my team, took care of them after the Pentagon, after Iraqi freedom, and also some other missions. I retired from active duty in 2004 where I went on to work for the Department of Homeland Security as a senior analyst with the biochem measures.

I became a federal civilian in 2005 and worked at headquarters Department of the Army, G-4, logistics. And I'd also like to highlight General Ann E. Dunwoody, who was my mentor and was my supervisor, who paved the path for women in the military and is a consummate professional and outstanding leader. I was selected as an Army senior fellow in 2007 and it is a competitive program for -- (inaudible) -- individuals, if any of the civilians are interested, it includes developmental assignments, executive education, and talent management. It prepares us for senior executive service. As a fellow, I attended the Naval War College and graduated this past June and now I'm on my executive assignment, which ends in a few months, so I'm looking for a position. (Laughter.)

Some lessons learned, personal advice, there are unlimited opportunities for women in the government, specifically DOD. I'll go to commercial, so after the commercial sector, women make approximately 75 cents to every dollar that men make, which is not the case within DOD. Times have changed, thanks for visionaries and leaders that we're recognizing during Women's History Month, leaders like Mary -- (inaudible) -- who established the first secondary -- the first woman to establish a secondary school, which later on became a four-year credited university. Things have changed. When I first came into the service, my unit used to force us to wear skirts and -- (inaudible) -- most of the women predominantly worked in administrative support roles, which is not a bad thing, but that's where we predominantly worked. That has changed; that's not the case anymore.

I believe that you have to be able to follow, to serve, before you can lead. I'm a servant leader. And we, as women, all have our own leadership styles and we are the primary nurturers. The way we lead is sometimes frowned upon in a male-dominated environment, but it's been proven that we lead just as effectively as men. Now, yes, sometimes that's challenging being a woman, but I've never really just focused on that. I usually just pressed on. Sometimes, you know, you just have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and get back on the saddle. Learn to fight your battle. Do it wisely.

Have short- and long-term goals and adjust them accordingly. Take every opportunity to make yourself more competitive. If you don't have an undergrad, get one. If you have a degree, get a graduate degree, get a second one. Seek out those opportunities to shine and make yourself more competitive. And also become -- for those civilians, you need to sign those mobility agreements. Have a broad background. Work as a -- (inaudible) -- at the base level, major command, and at headquarter level. If you ever want to compete with someone coming out of the military, you have to have that kind of a background.

Also -- (inaudible) -- take no for answer. I was told a couple of years ago when I wanted to go to a senior service college that I couldn't go because the Army had already picked, you know, made their selections that year. And also I didn't need one because I already had a graduate degree. Well, I didn't take that no for an answer. (Inaudible) -- Army senior fellows program, I applied for it, I got the support from my supervisor and within a month I was at the Naval War College. So, again, don't always take no for an answer.

Also, learn from the good, the bad and the ugly. We've all had that terrible supervisor or leader and we've learned how not to act and how not to be. And also learn from the good things that happen to you. And seek out mentors. They are just so, so wonderful to have and if you see someone that you respect, you can ask them to become your mentor. But ultimately, you're the person responsible for your career and you're the one that's going to have to plan and make it what it is. And lastly, as you progress in your career, just always remember to reach back and pull somebody up with you. Thank you so much. Have a good day.

(Applause.)

DIANA PUTMAN: Thanks, hi, I'm Diana Putman. And I'm sort of the oddball here. I'm a third-culture kid, or a global nomad, I'm also an anthropologist. My Ph.D. is in anthropology, a field where we've had actually lots of women trailblazers. I'm a development practitioner and I'm also a career USAID global service officer. So I grew up overseas and I've only spent about a third of my life in the States. But that doesn't mean, you know, I'm not really an American, because although I probably think differently than many Americans and I probably understand many cultures, I always see it through an American lens as well as the lens of whatever culture I'm working with.

My career has spanned a number of continents. I started with USAID in 1983 and worked in Indonesia first. After that, I was in Tunisia, went back to -- took a leave of absence at that point in time and followed the man I was involved with off to Japan and I actually did a sabbatical and worked there during research on women, with funding from Fulbright and the National Science Foundation. Then we went back to the States so that we could live together in the U.S. and promptly he took a job in Georgia because he couldn't get anything in Washington. I stayed in D.C.

We ended up about 18 months later and I said, well, you know, I really miss Africa because I had started off as a child in Africa, in Ouagadougou, and I was in second grade. And I had done my early professional work as a contractor before I joined USAID in Africa. And so we went off to Tanzania, which, at the time, was considered a hardship place, which we still had difficulty believing. And ended up spending five years there and needed to look for a new assignment. The problem at that point was that my husband had set up the first Internet service provider in Tanzania and had no exit plan -- (laughter) -- so we had a -- (inaudible) -- of assignment. And although I always swore I'd never move to Nairobi because it's so dangerous there, really high crime rates, I ended up going to Nairobi and worked in a regional position for six years out of Nairobi, so I covered approximately 20 to 24 countries -- (inaudible) -- the whole way down through Southern Africa and the island states.

My dad was a developer and he had great respect for the Africans with whom he worked. And as a child, his comments always were, these people know something or they never could have served in the hostile environments -- (inaudible) -- Niger, Somalia and Mali. And I think that has always, always influenced me, is an appreciation for other cultures and realizing while people do things differently, they still know what they're doing. And I think that's very, very important for us as Americans to remember when we're overseas.

However, he was a livestock guy and so, you know, I found livestock was sort of okay, but I really wanted to know what other people were thinking and that's how I ended up going into anthropology. And I find I use my anthropology every single day. I will admit that after we left -- (inaudible) -- Africa, went off to Jordan for a couple years, and to date probably my most intensive cross-cultural assignment was 10 months at the U.S. Army War College. (Laughter.)

However, I had an edge up on all these other entering -- (inaudible) -- people who came here and never lived with -- (inaudible) -- this and this and this and, you know, I should have listened to -- (inaudible) -- more, I know that word, I have no clue what it means. (Laughter.)

My parents instilled a lot of confidence in me as a child and as a girl child that I could be anything I wanted to be. And I always expected to work and they always set very high standards and so that's something that, I think, we all had, both as men and women, but I think to have the competitive edge as a woman, you've got to have some confidence in yourself and you really have to work hard.

But most importantly, you have to have passion for what you do. And I think passion matters more than anything else. I've never made my career choices based on promotion prospects. Had I several times along the way, I probably would have been senior foreign service at this point instead of an 06 equivalent, but that's still pretty good. I also, because I have passion for what I do, chose to come to AFRICOM in a branch chief position because I figured as a new command, it was most important to come in and see how we could really make this 3-D concept work, which I believe strongly is the way to the future.

You've got to have the passion and you have to be willing to figure out how to be flexible and accommodate the needs of your spouse and your children, your family. My daughter just turned up unexpectedly this afternoon. (Applause.) And so that's what you need. You need to make those decisions based on what's right for you and what's right for the family.

You also need to continue to grow intellectually. I took a research sabbatical in Japan, which was a blast. I learned so much from that. But what I also learned is that even though I enjoyed research, I'm very, very practically-minded and I couldn't understand why Fulbright didn't care about the potential policy implications of my research. Oh, no, you just do research -- (inaudible) -- Science had funded me. So that has made me realize that when I go forward next after AFRICOM, it would probably never be just to do research or just to teach. I would want to move into something that kind of continued to affect policy.

A couple more things. Being female has actually been a real plus in overseas contests. When I did my research, because I was a foreigner, I had access both to male and female worlds, when they're separated and that has been very, very helpful. I've always been seen as a professional representing the United States government, even though I will say I had to flaunt my doctor title when I had very long blonde hair, was much younger -- (inaudible, laughter) -- kind of crochety, middle-aged, you know, engineers. I was like, I had to have some sort of credibility. (Laughter.)

Interestingly enough, when I joined the foreign service in 1983, along with Ambassador Yates, you may recall, you actually -- up until 1974, or '75, Foreign Service officers who were female had to resign if they got married. So when I went in the Navy -- (inaudible) -- the senior female role models were basically all unmarried. There was a small group of sort of middle managers who were about, you know, eight to 10 years older than me who were married and those were the ones who had risen up through ranks. But it was very difficult initially to get people to understand that you could do both, have a marriage, have children, and have a career. And it was my cohort that really started to, I think, bring in the women at that time period, so about 25 years ago. And I suspect now we're about even in the male-female within USAID. Probably not as many women in the higher most ranks, but I suspect we're about 30 (percent), 40 percent in the highest ranks.

Over the years, older men have generally been helpful. Your male peers are probably your biggest worry because they are competing against you and they're always nervous that you have an edge on them, which is the way you're thinking, that they've got an edge on me. So that sometimes, you know, is stressful. And surprisingly, over the years, sometimes it's even other women that have been less supportive. So I can't emphasize any more than you that the fact that as a woman, it is so important to reach back, mentor the women who are younger than you, mentor your peers when it seems appropriate and give each other the moral support, because you are, no matter how open, how supportive a husband you may have or a companion you may have, there's still an extra time burden on women than on men that you have to balance.

I'll stop there, but I want to thank you very much for including me on the panel. And it is a real honor to be up here.

(Applause.)

AMBASSADOR MARY CARLIN YATES: Thank you. I'm the last to speak because I'm the oldest of this crowd. (Laughter.) Denise, thank you for your excellent introduction. It was great history and made us all, I think, put the framework around how far women have come and how many leaders have been before us. But I also want to thank this panel. I've learned so much. I'm so proud to be part of it and, you know, whether you're an officer, enlisted, civilian, anthropologist, I'll put you in another class over there -- (laughter) -- you know, it's just, it's wonderful to sit up here and listen to these experiences and I think this command is really, really fortunate to have people like this working in the command and I also think we are building something totally different.

This is my second international women's speech for the week. I did the last one in
Djibouti to about 600, I don't know, what day was that, Monday or Tuesday. Anyway, I want to tell you a couple of things from that experience in a moment, but since Denise gave you sort of ad nauseam my bio, I don't know that I need to do too much of the bio, except to say that things happen early in your lives that I think give signals, so watch your children, be a role model, because you never know how you're going to influence someone else.

And I truly believe that every person, man and woman, can be role models, because you can mentor, you can inspire, you can give that helping hand, just as we've heard from all the women up here. And when I thought back about things that, you know, people say to me, well, you're a role model, you know, how did you know you were a leader? And I said, I have no idea, but I do know stories that my mother's told me and I'm just going to tell you two, because my mother is also my number-one role model.

But she said, I knew you were going to do something where you were telling other people what to do -- (laughter) -- when you were really little because she said, you were six and the kids on the block were eight and nine and 10 and you'd have them all downstairs in the basement and you'd have a chalkboard and you'd be telling everybody what to write and telling them what to do. So she said, I didn't know what that meant about you, but I knew from an early age that you were going to try and take charge of something.

And then I think the first time I realized that leadership is something you can feel and you can enjoy and want and not everybody wants it that way, is in my grade school, and it went from first grade to eighth grade, there had never been a girl student body president in the eighth grade. So I sort of figured out in the seventh grade that was my challenge and I was going to take it on and I did and I became the student body president and we still have a teacher friend who's now in her nineties and she said, you were always telling the school what to do.

So this is not a vain thing I'm saying, but what I learned at that time was -- and again, it was sort of in retrospect, my favorite math class friend was a seventh grader, an African-American boy named Laverne (sp) Watson. And when I got asked to run for the student body president, I asked a seventh grader, as an eighth grader, to be my campaign manager. And I thought -- somebody said to me, you can't do that, you can't have a seventh grader as your campaign manager. I said, yes, I can, because I know Laverne has more friends in this school than anybody else. (Laughter.) So anyway, those are stories that I hope never make my bio.

And another thing, I don't know why I'm being confessional this afternoon -- (laughter) -- but one thing that also never makes my bio, but I know it's how I got some of the jobs after I graduated from college, when I went up on Capitol Hill and I got a really great job and somebody said, how'd you do that coming from Oregon? And I said, well, the guy who interviewed me was amazed because it said on there between my junior and senior year of college, I dealt blackjack in Lake Tahoe and I did. And the guy said, that's really amazing. Anyway, that's -- (inaudible, laughter) -- inspiring people, but I decided-- (inaudible) -- on me as well.

Actually, what I'd like to do is turn to what I said when I was in-- (inaudible) -- and asked to talk about role models. Instead, I took out and we -- I should say -- (inaudible) -- helped me put this together -- and I had seven pictures of role models in my life and these were all women whom I had met in Africa, some Africans and some Americans working in Africa. And because I felt like the -- (inaudible) -- crowd who had been there anywhere from two months to six months or whatever were also seeing role models, you know, when they went out on assignments and work. But I think if they take those ideas of those role models back to their home, back to their bases, back to their civilian lives, I think what I learned from working in Africa is you don't have to have a lot. You have to have the exact qualities these women have talked about. You have to be able to face hardship, work hard, be sincere, be honest with yourself, really want to help other people.

(Audio break.)

AMB. YATES: We have heard from a lot of females there in different situations -- how she could really be empowered. Came back, started her own NGO. She actually went back to Harvard and did a Nieman fellowship. But someone like that who is so courageous -- you know, I told her she ought to run for president of Burundi. Anyway, the examples went on and on. I give one example of not USAID, but a contractor. She was actually working with the NGO, World Vision. And she lived out in the poorest of the poor. This was where the people lived in huts with banana leaves on them. That is how they poor they were. Grass running around, things like that.

She asked me if I would come up there. And it was a very insecure area. We flew up there. And what I was impressed with is she knew each one of these people's names. She called them by their names with respect and dignity. You know, it didn't make any difference -- and I loved it and she would say I would like you to meet the ambassador. Well, these people wouldn't know what an ambassador was from, you know, anything. It was not important. She was the one who was important. And because she was teaching them how to multiply the growth of the seedlings so that they could have -- and to save some of the seedling, so once they grew that crop and their family ate, then, you know, a few months later when the seedlings would no longer grow, you know, she would have -- you know, they would have something to eat.

These are the people who are my heroes and role models, who think about doing for others and are so sincere in what they are doing. I could go on and on, but I have to tell you -- and Ben is here as my witness -- as I was speaking to this 650 or so at HOA on Monday. And I took questions. And this woman wrapped completely in her beautiful, you know, robes, came up and she said I am a Djiboutian and I work at the J1 here in HOA. I said very nice to meet you. And she had a microphone.

She was shaking a little bit, but very confident. And she started in this speech -- this is an important day of my life that I was invited here to hear you, but to see the examples, the role models. And she said, and I want to take your advice back to all of the women I meet for the rest of my life. And, you know -- (laughter) -- as Admiral Curtis said to me afterwards, well, there was no pressure on what you were going to say -- (laughter, inaudible) -- am I telling the truth? It was the most important day of my life.

Anyway, and so I thought whoa, this is a hard one. And I said, well, I don't think there is any answer for all women, but I do think that everyone should consider the importance of education. And as you have just talked about -- the importance of continuing to learn. You can never know enough. You can never stop exploring what is different -- seeing the world through other people's eyes. But I told her if she could share the word with women and their children about the importance of education, it helps just raise the standard.

So I probably talked more than my four minutes, but I could go on and on. I will just end by saying, as I put the slide up of my mother who is truly my role model and General Ward knows how deeply I feel about my mother and met her as she was going out to play golf here. I think she was -- when she was with us, she must have been about 93 when she came to visit. She is 96 now. She drives; she plays bridge. And it has her little master points. She tutors. Students still come to her home. But the best point was I had a picture of her at Christmas and she had a margarita in her hand. (Laughter, applause.) I told everybody she is still my inspiration. (Laughter.) Thank you.

(Applause.)

COMMANDER DENISE SHOREY: Well, ladies and gentleman, we have a little bit of time left. And what I would like to do now is if anyone has any questions for the panel, I would like to open the floor up to that. Unfortunately, we do not have a wireless mike, so we can't pass it around. I just ask you to speak strongly and raise your hand and introduce yourself, please. Thank you.

CONNIE DEAN: Hi. I am Connie Dean. What I would like to ask, is there any type of mechanism for the senior leadership to encourage mentorship for middle management here at AFRICOM -- formats or particular mechanisms to help us along in middle management?

AMB. YATES: Sorry, I do not know the answer to that. You make me feel like I should look into it. But does anyone else in the panel know?

MS. TAMBURRI: I just went to an actual training -- supervisory training. And there are some mechanisms that I think -- like DOD has, as far as mentoring is concerned. I think -- I am not sure if the Army, per se -- I know that this training was OPM -- office personnel management training. So they did talk a little bit about how mentoring your middle managers to actually be able to have leadership training to give them also opportunities to do different things in the office that can increase your experience. Also, giving them opportunities to, you know, either brief senior leaders or do different things like that that would actually groom our expertise. But as far as formal, I am not familiar within an Army command. But I know that OPM does have some tools that you can use to do those -- mentoring.

COLONEL FRANKLIN CHILDRESS: Yes, Colonel Childress. And I lot of you have a lot of active experience. And what can we use to do our job better in terms of seeing the world culturally from our point of view to help the Africans that we encounter when we go down to Africa and do our job?

MS. WITHERINGTON: I can take that question from -- (inaudible) -- and I think the most important thing we need to do for me, personally, coming from a diverse background and coming from a -- I am very fortunate to be coming from Africa and also for myself, more of the Middle East. I think diversity is very, very important. Culture is very important. And I think we offer a lot. And I am very proud that AFRICOM has started offering a lot of training opportunities and developing opportunities. As a matter of fact, I just finished a three-day -- or a two-and-a-half day wonderful leadership class -- (inaudible). I finished -- (inaudible) -- yesterday and I am very proud to have been part of that.

So I think as we go to classes, I think we can add culture, diversity, even within the workplace coming from the Pentagon. I mean, we were leaders and we developed leaders within the leaders. It doesn't really have to be a training or a class you go to. Just look around you. See who you can benefit from. Who can be a team leader? We used to get people in the Pentagon who we know that will benefit -- for instance, my office -- and I just put them as a guest speaker for a day.

And that day, they would be with us and our officers shared their experience and expertise, where they came from. Something similar to that panel here and this kind of program and -- (inaudible) -- our imagination and our awareness that it is not just us -- and I would say us, Americans, in the place. There is so much diversity around us. Put someone in charge to go to your question and I am sorry I am diverting here, but again, this kind of links to your question.

Maybe we can develop team leaders within our organization. If I am a leader in my job, I can put someone in charge for the week and see and make them feel how this is going to be like, how to deal in that environment, in that culture. Send them more to Africa. I would ask the leadership, take them more with them. If they see a developing leader, then take the people with you.

There has to be more, you know, exposure to this part of the world. And I think this will be the best place for us to understand, as opposed just to sitting. And I can explain to you about Africa just a few words. So the team watch was here yesterday. They also offered those kinds of courses and training. And they offered them not just to leaders, but just to anyone. Maybe this is something we need to focus on.

MS. PUTMAN: One thing -- in some ways, there is no shortcut to cultural awareness. On the other hand, all of us can start off by understanding and being respectful of other cultures and by listening. And I think for anybody who comes into AFRICOM -- for those folks who are on their way out, maybe it's too late. But for the incoming people, I would just encourage you to read, read, read, to look at movies, to just look at websites, to take advantage of the fact that there are a range of people around here who do know the continent.

But when you are interacting with Africans, I mean, I think a key part of it is, you know, sit there and really listen. And if it makes no sense to you, write down what they say, and then take it back and sit down and puzzle through it. Why are they saying it? From which perspective? What is their point of view and why do they have that point of view? Because it is very logical and it is very sensible; it just isn't your point of view. So I mean, I think that is so important.

I mean, one of the things I would like to see happening here is we have a marvelous agricultural university just down the street -- Hoanhun University, which is chock-a-block full of African students. And I would love to see the command actually sponsor an Africa Day, where we invite the students to come in here and educate us. Or maybe we see how we could interact more formally because we have got a whole slew of Africans right around us that we could be talking to, especially for those people who aren't going overseas, you know.

But, you know, again, if accept and appreciate that everybody has the exact same desires, you want to make a better life for yourself and for your children. You care about your country and you are very nationalistic, right? We are all patriots. We care about our flag. We think America is the greatest. Well, guess what? So does everybody else. They think their country is the greatest.

So when we go in and make snide remarks or we, you know, put ourselves above them, it doesn't go over very well. And so if you just every single time you hear something that makes no sense at all, put yourself in their shoes and say, why are they saying that? I think it just -- it makes a big difference instead of saying well, what an idiotic thing. But it is not easy and it takes a real long time and we are all still struggling to understand.

LT. COL. JUNG: If I can -- (inaudible) -- with what everybody else said. I think the first thing is if you are a leader/manager, you can not only do reading, but get your people rotated to get -- there is nothing that replaces on-the-ground experience in Africa. And you have to lose your American -- (inaudible) -- and really try to put it -- (inaudible) -- how they see things.

One story, example, I can give is that time here in Sierra Leone, there was an NGO organization or maybe, possibly, it was the -- (inaudible) -- program. They were handing out to my soldiers condoms. And my soldiers came back to me and told me, you know, there is no AIDS problem here. It is your people trying to do population control because they don't have all the â? they don't get all the news or the statistics. And they don't realize that it is a reality. So a lot of times, when you get out there, you just kind of have to take a step back and just kind of realize where they are coming from. They don't know what we know.

MS.: Great.

Another question?

GENERAL MARTIN: Thank you. General Martin -- (inaudible). Thank you, ladies, ma'am, for a wonderful panel. My wife and I have three beautiful daughters. And I wish I would have -- (inaudible, laughter) -- to come. And I hope I can get you to see the tape.

The question is in the future -- 10 years from now if you are all sitting on the panel, what item, practical example do we need as a military or as a country to be moving forward in a women's history month? And what would you like to see 10 years from now, sitting on a panel to all of us?

MS. TYLER: Ten years from now, I want there not to be a need to have a women's history month.

(Applause, laughter.)

MASTER SERGEANT ZOE WOOD: Hi. My name is Master Sergeant Wood and I work on -- (inaudible) -- at AFRICOM. And I am going to go back 10 years, General Martin. I would like to know from the ladies on the panel â? all of you, whether you have military backgrounds or not, have had some experiences positive or negative sometimes that were -- they are just growth experiences for you and propelled you into the place that you are now. And I would just like to know -- because I can think of examples in my career. And as the lady said in HOA, you are now mentors to us. We have heard your stories and we are going to find inspiration from that. So I would like to know if any of you can think of any particular examples -- positive or negative -- that really propelled you in the direction that you are in now.

LT. COL. LAURA VARHOLA: I just have one comment with an interesting experience I had in Tanzania when I was there as the defense attachhÃ. I was the first female foreign defense attachhà that Tanzania had had. So obviously, you know -- you walk in, obviously -- you have to prove yourself, first off, that you are compatible with the defense attaches. But when you go in, you have your initial in-brief with the chief of defense forces of that country. And, you know, he gives you his spiel of what he expects or what he would like to see from you as the military liaison officer.

And obviously, I am sure there was some consternation of when I walked in being of the female gender. But the point that I remember the most is after two-and-a-half years of being there on the ground, I walked out for my out-brief with this gentleman. And General Ward knows how this particular chief of defense was very difficult to work with. He was not very pro-American, trying to get some of the military programs online was one of my key responsibilities and key challenges while I was there. But his comment to me at the very end -- I mean, my parting shot out the door is -- he says, I really hope, Lieutenant Colonel Varhola, that the next attaches and all the future attaches that your country sends to my country are men and not women.

(Laughter.)

You know, I took that as a positive takeaway because -- (laughter) -- because I worked so hard in that darn country. And I kept on spinning, I think, in a lot of ways for all the things that we were trying to promote and push that he was ready to settle back and have someone less proactive, I think. (Laughter.)

Q: He was dead serious?

LT. COL. VARHOLA: Oh, he was stone-cold, dead serious. (Laughter.) So I am just saying that, you know, that was a positive thing for me to keep going and that I made an impact â? positive on my side, negative on his side. But I think that was --

AMB. YATES: It is such a segue from Laura's story because I spent three wonderful years in Ghana -- wonderful years. I happened to have been the third female ambassador in a row and every time someone pointed that out to me, I said yes, but I walked through and see all the former ambassadors -- all these white males for all these years. So it is okay that you had three females. That is what I would say internally in the embassy. But I am on my outcalls and two different ministers said to me, please tell us that the next ambassador is going to be a male. (Laughter.)

So I mean, you know, you are just stung thinking well, what are we doing -- judging on gender? But, I mean, it happens.

MS. WITHERINGTON: Yes, as a matter of fact, I am going to mention â? and I am very proud to mention this -- a negative and a positive. And this also shows us how us, women, and not just women -- all of us -- if we -- (inaudible) -- I think we can do it. In 1988, before I left Egypt, when I was getting ready to get married to my husband and leave Egypt, of course, you know, as an Arab woman and an African woman and a Muslim woman, it is -- (inaudible) -- for the female to marry a foreigner. And I said I will make it and I will make it happen. And I will succeed.

The imam of the -- (inaudible) -- who was signing off on my marriage, he told me, Miss Hakas (ph), you will not make it and see you after a year back to Egypt. And I went back and I made sure to let him know that not only I was able to be married now for 21 years -- (laughter) -- and raise a daughter who is a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, another daughter who is working at West Point and a senior in school and be away from my husband for the last 12 years and also pursue a career. The proudest time in my life, which I had never thought I would be able to do, is when I marched over to go and do a -- (inaudible) -- mission and bring our heroes back firsthand. I was the Army person to do that.

So I also went back and I let him know that because there is nothing called impossible. This again, going back to culture and different cultures and how we can make different cultures meet, whether it is from the Middle East, from Africa, white, black, yellow, it doesn't matter. We are all human beings. And we are here in this world to mix and mingle and make the world a better place. So please move on. There is nothing -- if anyone tells you it is impossible, it is possible.

(Applause.)

CMDR. SHOREY: Ladies and gentlemen, we have time for one more question and if you have one -- otherwise, we will call it a day. Does anyone have a question?

COL. CHILDRESS: I don't think we can improve on that. (Laughter.)

CMDR. SHOREY: Well, that is a fine ending point. I would like to thank our panelists for coming. It was wonderful, inspiring. And I learned a lot and I am standing up here. I would like to -- excuse me?

MS.: (Inaudible) -- still think about your Lawrence question. (Laughter.)

CMDR. SHOREY: And I would like to thank everyone for coming, particularly our distinguished visitors -- Edward Moeller (sp), General Martin, General Ward, Mrs. Ward. Thank you so much for coming today and I hope you have a lovely weekend. Thank you.

(Applause.)

(END)
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