Women's Advisory Group Still Needed; Helps Men, Too
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 11, 2000 Vickie L. McCall is so passionately involved with doing good things for military women -- and men -- that her husband often teasingly tells her, "In your next life, I'll see you in the Pentagon."
She thinks so, too. McCall said if she's reincarnated, "I'll come back as a military person. Maybe it was my time overseas, or what my father instilled in me. I don't know what it is, but I really believe I'm military.
"I think the military is one of the best things America has going. We just need to make sure we don't take it for granted and appreciate the service and commitment of military people," said McCall, chair of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, or DACOWITS. The committee is the eyes and ears for the secretary of defense on matters concerning women in the military.
"Even though I don't wear a uniform, I know my father, who died about seven years ago, knows I'm doing good things for our people," said McCall. Her father was a wounded World War II Navy veteran. "I know his hand is there and he would be so proud to know that I'm doing this."
McCall is serving a one-year tenure as chair of the 50-year-old DoD- sponsored committee that's comprised of 36 civilians, including five men, from throughout the nation and a five-member military support staff. Members are appointed by the secretary of defense to three-year terms to advise him on matters relating to the effective use of women in the services. This marks McCall's third year.
Appointed to DACOWITS in 1998, the Ogden, Utah, native served on the Forces Development and Utilization Subcommittee and as vice chair of the subcommittee last year.
When she joined DACOWITS, the organization was on the tail end of discussions on gender integrated training. "I'm so pleased to see that gender-integrated training is working now," said McCall, president of Utah's Defense Alliance and the first and only woman ever appointed as a Utah alcohol and beverage control commissioner.
Saying she "begged" to join DACOWITS, McCall said she never served in the armed forces, but she has had a lot of military involvement. Her first involvement was with the military affairs committee at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, which escalated to state and national involvement. McCall, an award-winning licensed real estate agent, also worked as an adviser to Air Combat Command at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
After nearly a half century, DACOWITS, which was established in 1951, is still a viable organization because "women are still a minority in the services," said the tall, slim, blue-eyed, quick-witted mother of two, who quipped she's 5 feet, 9 inches without shoes and hair.
"We don't have a perfect world, but we're making advances," she said. "Military women have come so far and we've helped open so many opportunities to them, but the playing field isn't level yet. We still have career paths that women are excluded from. We still see some sexual harassment, but it seems to be on the decline."
Women are talented, resourceful and capable and need to be accepted for who they are and what they can do, she emphasized. "But as long as women are a minority, it's important that we have an organization to work the issues that present themselves."
Several important issues for women that need to be resolved include child care, healthcare, housing, pay and retirement benefits, she noted. McCall said topping the list of concerns for women are parity and equity in pursuing different career options and feeling good about what they do.
"When you make life better for women with such things as child-care facilities, TRICARE medical benefits and housing, the rippling effect makes life better for a man as well," McCall said.
She said DACOWITS' spring meeting, held here April 26-30, addressed healthcare, child care, women on submarines, women in the multiple- launch rocket systems field and other topics. An equality management team discussed race, ethnicity and gender issues and National Guard and Reserve concerns.
The conferees voted unanimously to recommend gender-integrated submarine duty starting with female officers on ballistic missile subs. McCall said she's spent three nights aboard a nuclear attack submarine earlier this year to experience what it's like for crews.
"We should ensure that the habitability standards are designed for women as well as men on future submarine platforms that are going to hit the water in 15, 20 and 30 years," she said.
Also during her appointment, she's jumped with the Army Golden Knights parachute demonstration team, flown in an F-16 fighter and ridden in tanks and on Coast Guard cutters.
The next field DACOWITS wants to open to women is artillery duty in multiple-launch rocket system units. The committee has pressed this issue about 12 years. "We feel this is a career path women should have access to," she said. "We're going to keep pushing until that happens."
Noting that DACOWITS' main goal is to improve life for military women, McCall said, "We need to tell men when we make a recommendation to the secretary of defense, it's not just to push a woman somewhere. Readiness is our major concern. We're there to do what's right for the military to make sure we're using the best people to do the jobs. If it passes the logic test, makes sense and enhances readiness, women should be there."
Changing attitudes of the younger generation of men may make it easier for women working in male-dominated jobs in the future, McCall said. That's because, she said, "younger men are more accustomed to seeing women in the work place. They're growing up with a new standard. Yet, I've met some older retired people who said, 'Gee, many of the best people I ever had on my team were women.'"
But, she said, "You can't pick and choose or stereotype a certain segment of the men. It depends on who has had a positive experience. For the most part, men who have worked with women have had very positive experiences, and they're very supportive of women in the work place and taking on new responsibilities."
McCall said the number of women in the work place and the acceptance of women co-workers by men have dramatically increased.
"We didn't have much when I was growing up, but made up for it with support," McCall said. "Dad worked two jobs to support the family of four siblings." She has two brothers and a sister. "My mother was a housewife, which was a cultural thing. You'd live on potatoes and water rather than have the women work, especially in Utah. It was only after I married and left that my mother went to work. Now, she's 72 years old and still working at a tailoring company."
McCall is spearheading an outreach program to spread the word about what DACOWITS is, what it does, why it's needed and how to contact representatives. "We want to get the message not only to DoD officials, but also to Congress and the American public," she said. "And we want to learn how to partner with the services as issues are advanced."
She also encourages DACOWITS members to speak in their communities, talk to their congressional delegations and write articles. "We have to get the message out that we have the best of the best serving in the military," McCall said. "We owe it to them to take any avenue, any venue and exercise our options and responsibility to communicate that message.
"We have to be better as a public and better in what we demand of Congress to make sure our troops have the things that they need to do their job," McCall said.
"I have a son who's absolutely the apple of my eye," she said. "But I would give my son to the armed services. When I do, I want to know that he has what he needs to be the warrior and to protect our country. Don't shortchange him and don't make me sacrifice him if you're not going to give him the equipment and the support to do his job."
Her son, Ronald Jr., 26, has served a stint in the Naval Reserve as a seaman and is considering attending Officers Candidate School. Her daughter, Jennifer, 29, is a state parole and corrections officer. Her husband, Ronald, is also in the real estate business.
A DACOWITS delegation makes an annual trip to overseas bases to discuss concerns of women serving in foreign countries. Committee members talked to about 2,500 people and reported back to the secretary of defense and the services chiefs on what they'd seen and heard.
"We're not there to do a sightseeing junket," McCall said. She said executive board members and support staff ask two questions of every overseas focus groups they meet:
"If you had five minutes with the secretary of defense, what do you want him to know? That usually sparks conversations. "If it doesn't, then we ask: 'How's life here? Tell us what's going on,'" McCall said. "We're not there to focus on a particular issue. It's their time to tell us what their issues and concerns are so we can channel them to the right people when we get back."
McCall said a detailed report is prepared from each trip. The report is broken down by issues, quality of life, equality management, force development and utilization. It's also broken down by the services and, in some cases, countries are included. The report is sent to the secretary of defense and chiefs of staff of the services, including the Coast Guard.
McCall said, for her, the value of serving "comes for me when I sit across the table from a woman who tells me what's troubling her, and says, 'Please take this to the secretary of defense and see what can be done.'" McCall said. "When I deliver a message from the troop to the secretary of defense that might make a change for the better for troops, DACOWITS is a huge success.
"I think we're making progress," she said. "We see more and more women doing things that they never had the opportunity to do before. It's getting better, but it's not perfect, yet."
McCall said when her tenure as DACOWITS chair is over, she'd like to think that she helped make life better for military women -- and men.
"Maybe their promotion opportunities, child care or housing situation is better," McCall said. "I'd also like to go home and look at my daughter and say, 'It's not just the men who are serving this country, and I want to ensure you have every opportunity to serve and fulfill those desires to make this country a better place. If you're serving in the military, you should have the same opportunities as your brother has.'"