Col. Walsh Hosts Female Leadership Panel, “Empowered Minds” to Close Out Women’s History Month

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  • By Tamry L. McCauley
  • SBD 3

Col. Mia Walsh, commander, Space Base Delta 3 at LAAFB, hosted the “Empowered Minds” Female Leadership Panel in the Gordon Conference Center on March 30, 2023. In addition to Walsh, the panel featured, Capt. Jessica O'Brien, USB, commanding Officer, Naval Weapons Stations, Seal Beach, LTC Manju Vig, USA, garrison commander, Joint Force Training Base, Los Alamitos, and CMDR Lisa M. Sharkey, USCG, commanding officer, Coast Guard Base Los Angeles/Long Beach. The event was the final activity of celebrating Women’s History Month.

SSgt Ana Chavez, the moderator for the panel, opened the event by highlighting the significance of March’s designation as Women’s History Month, “the month is set aside to honor women’s contributions to history, culture, and social progress.”  Women Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, Guardians, Coasties and civilian employees have made tremendous contributions in service to our country."

The 2023 theme is "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." Walsh started off the panel by sharing a unique fact, “this is the first time in history all of the commanders in the local Southern California area are female.”

The panel members discussed their personal journey, life lessons, and military experiences that helped shape them into the leaders they are today.  They also shared lessons of perseverance, impactful moments of mentorship, and stories of their role models.

Sharkey shared that her military career started off a little rocky, as an E-3 she got in trouble, and was afraid of getting kicked out of the military. However, a salty yet understanding commanding officer gave her a second chance and some sage advice which saw her through commissioning and serving for 35 years.

Vig, originally from Bombay, India said, “the miliary has always been a path that has struck me. Having a grandfather who also served in the Indian Army, serving was a part of our family history. The most defining moment in my life was the mentorship I received from my aunt and my mom. Being an immigrant there was a lot to learn, the language and culture. These two strong, strong women were roles models who taught me how to read, to have initiative and drive, and guided me on the path that led me to where I am today.”

O’Brien shared a moment in her military career that changed her life. A giant ship, with a gaping hole in the side of it. Early in her career, she felt she was the worst mid-shipmen ever. Until Oct. 12, 2000, a date she said she would never forget. The USS Cole suffered a surprise attack by Al Qaeda suicide bombers while at port in Yemen. At the time, O’Brien was on her first deployment in the Seychelles and learned the USS Cole had been attacked, “that day changed everything for me. Witnessing the devastation changed my life. This mission gave me a purpose that I didn’t have, it helped me to understand what a life of service meant.”  She continued, “twenty plus years later, I’m still doing this, and I love it. It was a defining moment for me in my career of service.”

 Walsh talked about a mentor, retired Col. Fred Taylor, who had a huge impact on her life. She described how he took her under his wing, "a strong mentor serves as a guide, role model, and teacher, especially to a newly minted military member." Walsh said, "over the last 24 years he saw every promotion, reviewed every Officer Performance Report, every package for promotion or military training. He is the type of mentor people should strive to be."

 She described a moment when her husband asked her, "who have you really been a mentor for?"  "It made me think, am I a passive or an active mentor?  Passive mentoring is saying, 'Come see me if you need anything' while active mentoring is reaching out to people and checking in on them." She made a commitment to strive every day to be an active mentor and pay forward the mentorship of Col Taylor.

This group of amazing leaders and their stories represent the many untold stories of women from all branches of service. Since America's first days, women have made profound sacrifices in service to our country. As we look back at the history of women in the military, there was a time where women were not allowed to serve in combat military occupational specialties like infantry, artillery, and combat aviation.

As of October 2022, women make up 18% of the active-duty force and in 2013 ground combat role restrictions were lifted for females which opened all military jobs to women. Another 33% of women serve as civilians in the Department of Defense. Since the Revolutionary War, more than 3 million women have served, even before the military recognized their service. In reading this article and hearing these women share their stories, one can see how women are creating space where they’ve never been.