Members of the Fort Drum community gathered March 8 at the Commons to celebrate achievements in promoting women’s rights and to reaffirm their commitment to supporting the continued advancement of women in America and around the world.
The theme for the celebration, which was hosted by 2nd Brigade Combat Team, was “Honoring Trailblazing Women.” Pfc. Colby L. Hawley, narrator for the program, read opening remarks for the observance.
“America honors the celebrated women pioneers and leaders in our history, as well as those unsung women heroes of our daily lives,” Hawley read. “We honor those outstanding women whose contributions to our nation’s life, culture, history, economy and families have shaped us and helped us fulfill America’s promise.”
The narrator spoke of the accomplishments of American women since the birth of our country. From the settlers who helped to found our nation, to those who dedicated their lives to abolishing slavery, fighting in support of the women’s suffrage movement and protecting freedoms at home and abroad, women have long been the backbone of our families, communities and country, she said.
“During Women’s History Month, we pause to pay tribute to the remarkable women who prevailed over enormous barriers, paving the way for women of today to not only participate in, but to lead and shape every facet of American life,” Hawley read.
The ceremony was dedicated to four women who each made a lasting impact in their field.
Dr. Sheila Widnall, the 18th secretary of the Air Force, oversaw the recruiting, training and equipping of the 380,000 men and women on active duty, 251,000 members of the Air National Guard and Air Reserve and 184,000 Civilians of the Total Force.
A professor of aeronautics and astronautics, Widnall is known for her work in fluid dynamics. She also has served on many boards and panels in government, industry and academia.
Retired Command Master Chief Evelyn “Vonn” Banks was the first woman to serve that role in the U.S. Navy Recruiting Command. Banks went on to become the first female command master chief of the U.S. Naval Academy in 2007.
Among her many other accomplishments, Banks was a surface warfare specialist in the North Arabian Gulf, and she won the coveted Ramage Award for the best Aircraft Carrier / Carrier Air Wing team on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
In 2011, then Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds became the first female commander of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C. Reynolds became the first female Marine ever to hold a command position in a battle zone while serving a yearlong tour in Afghanistan.
Reynolds was promoted in 2016, and she became one of the only two female major generals in the Marine Corps. She now serves as commanding general for the Marine Corps Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Md.
Tracy L. Pinson became the director of the Office of Small Business Programs, Secretary of the Army in 1995. A staunch advocate for the small business community, she provided management and oversight for the Army’s Mentor-Protégé Program. Pinson was the highest-ranking female Civilian in the Army’s acquisition career field at the time of her retirement in 2014.
Guest speaker was retired Col. Kirsten Brunson, whose numerous leadership roles included legal adviser to the Field Investigative Unit, 701st Military Police Group (U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command); deputy chief of the Defense Appellate Division and deputy staff judge advocate for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. She was the first African American woman to serve as an Army judge. Brunson retired in November 2015, after more than 23 years of active-duty service.
Brunson said that while she was honored to be invited to speak about her experiences as a woman in the military, she felt that by interacting daily with female Soldiers, members of the audience already knew a great deal about the value of women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Instead, Brunson said, she wished to talk about success.
“What is a successful woman?” she asked the audience. “Is she one who makes it into the history books? Is she a trailblazer – the first to accomplish something? Perhaps she has reached the heights of her profession. We might all agree that such women would be considered successful.”
Brunson said that Merriam Webster defines success as “a favorable outcome: the attainment of wealth, fame or imminence.”
“When I graduated from law school, I thought success was passing the bar exam …” she said. “When I got married, success became trying to get developmental jobs at the same installation. Then we had our first child. I thought success would be surviving the night.”
Brunson spoke of her inner struggle as an active-duty officer, a wife and a mother trying to define what success meant to her.
“Was I a failure as a mother because my children were in day care?” she asked. “Was I a failure as an officer because I left work at 5 o’clock to go home to my Family? Was I a failure as a wife because I didn’t cook dinner every night?
“I served nearly 24 years on active duty and attained the rank of colonel,” she continued. “I have a college degree and two postgraduate degrees. Does that mean I’m successful? Am I then, less successful now that I am retired, don’t practice law and homeschool my son?”
Brunson spoke of women like Oprah Winfrey, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. She said that most people would consider these women to be successful. She also spoke of women like Lucy Reed, a farmer’s daughter from Massachusetts and the mother of Susan B. Anthony. She spoke of Stanley Ann Dunham, a twice-divorced anthropologist working primarily in Indonesia and the mother of Barack Obama.
“Success does not require notoriety,” Brunson said. “It doesn’t need fame or fortune to exist. Many, many successful women will never get credit for the gifts they gave to the world.”
So, what then does constitute success? Brunson asked the audience.
“If your goal is to make it to E-5 and use your G.I. Bill and you accomplish that, you are a success,” she said. “If your goal is to raise intelligent, kind, civic-minded children while following your spouse all over the globe and you accomplish that, you too are a success – even if you never work outside the home. If your goal is to rise as high as you can in your profession and you make it to the second-highest position, you are a success.”
“My point is this: let’s stop gauging ourselves by someone else’s standards,” Brunson said. “Let’s stop comparing our accomplishments to those of others. Let us instead find success and happiness on our own terms. That is when we contribute most.”