FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. –
Through the years, Women’s History Month observances have taken many forms, as we pause to recognize efforts by many that have paved the way to the roles available to women in the military today, and efforts to increase those roles even more tomorrow.
This year, the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Female Empowerment Special Emphasis Group chose to look at this topic through the lens of women’s health and fitness in the military by hosting a panel discussion on the topic March 23 at the Keystone Conference Center here.
A panel of five Pa. National Guard female Soldiers and Airmen addressed questions on a variety of topics ranging from career advancement to recovery from childbirth. Panelists included Army Brig. Gen. Laura McHugh, Deputy Adjutant General-Army; Air Force Maj. Leslie Knight, director of inspections for the 193rd Special Operations Wing; Army Command Sgt. Maj. Shannon Cullen, command sergeant major, Eastern Army Aviation Training Site (EAATS); Army 1st Sgt. Marleigh Bogumil, chief medical noncommissioned officer, EAATS; and Army Staff Sgt. Kelly White, assigned to the 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team S-1, and a full-time as a supply technician for Field Maintenance Shop No. 5 in Cambridge Springs, Pa.
“Women’s history has officially been celebrated in the United States every March since 1982,” said McHugh, who is currently the highest-ranking female officer in the Pa. National Guard. “[It’s] a time dedicated to paying tribute to those women who shape history and raise awareness of those who continue to pave the way forward.
“Women have served alongside our military since the revolutionary war,” McHugh said. “Women have officially served in the United States military since 1948, and in previously closed off combat arms positions since 2016. Women make up an ever-growing percentage of our servicemembers.”
Military service is challenging enough, but serving the in the National Guard poses unique challenges such as balancing a military career around one’s primary career as well as family and everyday life. Finding the proper balance is critical to being successful and remaining ready.
“You have to establish a really reliable and dependable support system,” said White, who holds two undergraduate degrees from Edinboro University in developmental psychology and business administration, and well as a master’s degree from Indiana University in nutrition science. “Whether that’s your family, your friends, childcare center at the gym, everybody’s included in that support system.”
While one of the major themes emerging from panel responses focused on the importance of prioritizing selfcare as an essential part of maintaining health and wellness, the panel addressed questions on professional development and mentorship.
“As a leader having been in the Guard for about 18 years now, being able to show that vulnerability that I am not a perfect person and I struggle with things,” said Bogumil, who has held multiple military occupational specialties throughout her military career. “Showing that vulnerability with your soldiers can build those connections, can really help drive that team forward.”
Engaging with people is also a way to increase unit cohesion and strengthen teams.
“You really have to know your soldiers and airmen, you have to be available to them and go where they’re at,” said Knight, who represented the PA Air National Guard on the panel. “You have to care, you have to show that you’re there for them. Get out there and get to know your airmen and soldiers!”
While the Pa. National Guard has had several strong senior female officers, it has yet to have a female senior enlisted leader, which lead to a question from an audience member to ask the panel’s advice for junior female service members.
“I personally believe it’s just a matter of time,” McHugh said. “You can look back just about three, three-and-a-half years ago and you didn’t see a female sergeant major. Now, I can name them on both hands, so it’s just a matter of time.”
“I agree with you 100 percent,” said Cullen, one of the Pa. National Guard’s senior female noncommissioned officers. “In my field of aviation there isn’t a lot of senior-level enlisted people. Probably part of the reason I’ve hung around until I’m 50 years old, is I want females in the military – especially aviation for me personally – to see that anything you want to do is possible.
“And it truly is. It's all about setting your goals and pursuing them,” Cullen said. “I mean, I never thought in a million years I’d make E-9, but I just kept working at it.”
It's also important for leaders to become role models for the people they lead, and for younger members it’s important to see others in roles that they want to be able to fill in the future.
“I think at that junior level we have a lot more options that we do at that senior level,” Bogumil said. “But hopefully with time, there will be more and more senior leader options out there for us as female mentors.”