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Symposium Strives to Helps Academy Women Succeed in Military

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2005 – So many people asked Susan Feland why she attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and, even more, why she would want to be in the military, it dawned on her that women graduates of military academies are special and different from women in mainstream American society.

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Susan Feland, founder and president of Academy Women, chats with Diane K. Morales, former deputy undersecretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness, after the second annual Academy Women Symposium at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

That's what Feland told more than 100 attendees at the second annual "Academy Women" symposium at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial here Sept. 23 and 24. The 1993 academy graduate said she founded "Academy Women" two years ago to provide women military academy graduates a source of needed communication and a forum for information gathering, research, mentorship and policy analysis.

Academy Women represents and supports service-academy women alumni, cadets, candidates and affiliates. The group also supports women of Virginia Military Institute and the Citadel and ROTC cadets.

The symposium was billed as an opportunity for participants to meet up with old friends, network with women academy graduates and be inspired by prominent guest speakers, panel sessions, interactive workshops and a gourmet evening dinner.

"When people found out that I am a graduate of the Air Force Academy, they'd ask me, "Why would you do that?" Feland told the gathering of academy women in the Women's Memorial theater. "They asked me why would ever want to attend a military academy and ever want to be in the military, for that matter.

"I realized at that point that women who have gone to an academy and women who have been in the military are special," she said. "And they have something unique about them that sets them apart. By understanding the various things we've all gone through, we can use that network in the future as mentors to help the community of women who come behind us."

Feland said only about 25 women attended the first Academy Women symposium last year. "We've grown to about 130 this year," she noted. "As soon as women find out about what we're doing, they get really excited.

Feland said she believs the group already is making a difference. "For the first time, I feel as though we're changing military culture," she said. "In the past, women would avoid other women, and now we feel OK getting together in a setting were we all can benefit from each other in developing leadership skills. Getting together also helps us understand where we can work harder, understand our strengths and weaknesses so we can become, not only confident in what we're doing now, but be able to pave a path for success in the future."

Academy Women is a membership organization that doesn't charge any fee. Everything is available online so academy women around the world can access the information, Feland noted. "We bring these women together online through our Web site and once a year we have our symposium, which brings women together, not only from overseas, but from nearly every state in the union," she said.

Feland said the organization's vision for the future is to be able to share information that will help future academy women.

"We see the potential to be a leader as a forum of leadership of women in nontraditional career fields," Feland said. "For so long, nontraditional career fields overlooked the minority of women that are involved. We can say, hey, we've all done this. We've learned this from it and this is how we'd like to help you do the same thing."

Feland said it's exciting to meet women from other services because often women get wrapped up in their own career fields and become closed-minded. "But to meet women from the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Navy and understand what they're doing is exciting, as well as the benefits of being able to work together in the future," she explained. "Every service has its own little culture. But, surprisingly enough, there are so many similarities amongst the services, especially amongst the women in the various services. We all seem to deal with vary similar issues and in that sense, we can benefit from each other."

The symposium featured panel discussion that included women who have achieved great things and achieved success in their professions, Feland said. "They've learned lessons we can learn as well," she said. "So many of the scenes cross over and help us with our own jobs."

The symposium featured speakers who attended a military academy, graduated, served, and maybe even retired. Some of them are now in government, politics and other important jobs in the civilian world. Feland said the civilian women provide academy women information on how they see women in the military and how they've been able to be involved with women in the military.

"It give us better understanding for our community that many of us have not been a part of," Feland noted. "Being active duty, you tend to be in your own little groove and your own niche and you don't see what's happening on the civilian side."

Feland said she sees Academy Women as a trendsetter for changing the mind set of the military culture for women. "For so long, being a woman in the military has been something that you really try to hide and try to fit in and not be seen as different," she said. "But we wanted to provide an environment where women feel good about being women and at the same time doing a good job at what they are professionally -- really celebrate who they are."

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