JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
Although the number of women serving in the U.S. military has increased, women represent less than 20 percent of the military.
As part of Women’s History Month, the Hickam 5/6 Council hosted the Visionary Women: Champions of Peace and Nonviolence Women’s Panel here March 28. The panel featured three women who have seen the number of female leaders rise in more than 20 years of service.
“When I joined the Navy, I never saw a female commanding officer and I saw one woman executive officer and one female chief,” said Master Chief Navy Counselor Susan Garrow, Commander, Pacific Fleet Career Counselor, who has been in the Navy for 28 years. “It took me 10 years and a lot of work to get on a ship.”
Women were not allowed to serve on combatant ships until 1994.
“There was not much leadership for women, so I fought for myself because I didn’t have people fighting for me,” added Yeoman Senior Chief Michele Johnson, Joint Base Administration Department Leading Chief. “I always asked questions. A lot of male chiefs help male chiefs, but they don’t realize they need to help the sailor regardless of their gender because they’re going to replace us.”
As part of the panel, audience members asked questions about keys to success.
“Balance—if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not good for the organization,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jamesha Barnes, Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization Detachment 2 superintendent. “Have a life outside of work—whether it’s family, church, or community service—and set boundaries because if you try to do everything, you won’t be able to do anything.”
Barrow advised that listening could save a career.
“I was always talking with a chip on my shoulder, but I thought it was a chip on everyone else’s shoulder,” said Barrow. “The chip on my shoulder was saying, ‘I’m a woman, I’m not allowed to do…’ when I needed to say, ‘I am a woman, I’m bringing a table and my own chair and this is what I can do.’”
The demographics of the military have changed compared to when each of the three panel members joined in the 1990s.
“It wasn’t until I saw a female chief for the first time that I thought, ‘I can be a chief petty officer,’ said Johnson. “Visuals matter, when what you see resembles who you are, it changes the dynamics of what you think you can do.”
Barnes’ situation was slightly different.
“I was raised by a chief. My mom made chief in 13 years so that was a lot of pressure,” said Barnes, whose mother, retired Chief Master Sgt. Janice Corbett, was in attendance. “Once I got over my fear of failing I came into my own.”