RAF MILDENHALL, England – It’s no argument that the role of women in society has developed drastically throughout history. Trailblazing women have influenced generations and today’s achievers to continue to challenge gender stereotypes and fight for equality. That powerful influence can be found close to home by hearing the story of women we encounter in our daily lives – it’s just a matter of listening.
The RAF Mildenhall Diversity and Inclusion Team hosted a women speakers’ panel March 24, 2017, highlighting this year’s Women’s History Month theme, “Honoring Trailblazing Women Who Have Paved the Way for Future Generations.” Members of Team Mildenhall and a guest from neighboring RAF Lakenheath shared their experiences and life lessons at an open forum inviting both base communities.
The women’s panel featured Lt. Col. Seanna Less, 352nd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander; Chief Master Sgt. Hope Skibitsky, 48th Medical Operations Squadron superintendent; Senior Master Sgt. Tara Thompson, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron flight chief; Kara Neave, 100th Operation Support Squadron flight data analyst; and Sue Winegardner, spouse of Chief Master Sgt. Richard Winegardner, 352nd Special Operations Wing commander.
Each speaker gave their introduction and spoke of instances in their lives where they felt gender became an apparent factor. Each speaker described somewhat similar hardships they’ve faced in each of their unique backgrounds. A commonality was their humble demeanor, willingness to share what helped them conquer challenges and a similar theme: the military.
Being a female officer in a male-dominant career field, aircraft maintenance, posed some instant challenges for Less. Now a lieutenant colonel, Less has established herself as a squadron commander and said that she loves her role in leadership and working with the Airmen.
“It’s gratifying to see the team effort and professionalism of the Airmen,” said Less.
Finding a solid support system does not come easily and may require self-reliance to come into play. Skibitsky exceeded others and her own expectation earlier in her military career — she was challenged with being a single mother as an Air Force military training instructor.
“As a small-statured woman, I was told to be louder and meaner to the trainees or no one would take me seriously as an MTI,” said Skibitsky. “I cried after work for what seemed like the first year as an MTI. Embrace whatever gets you through a tough time, regardless of what other people think because the end result, your success, is what’s important. I proved myself in my career and more importantly as a mother -- my son is alive and thriving today.”
Neave became a member of Team Mildenhall 14 years after she enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an air traffic controller.
“I shocked my family when I informed them I had enlisted,” explained Neave. “I was the first in my immediate family — everyone expected my oldest brother to enlist, but never me.”
Mrs. Sue Winegardner brought a unique perspective to the panel as a military spouse. She described how proud she was of her career progression with a major international airline.
Thompson will join the highest Air Force enlisted rank as she gets ready to put on chief master sergeant stripes. Her promotion is a testament to a successful career.
Thompson continued by describing why she dedicates herself to the Airmen. Early in her Air Force career, she admits that she was a troubled Airmen, but her leadership did not give up on her and worked to set her up for success.
“I tell my pupils, ‘it’s not about where I see you, rather it’s about where you see yourself.’ I’m here to make those goals happen,” remarked Thompson.