The U.S. 7th FLEET -- Throughout 2019’s 25th Anniversary Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) events, women from the U.S. Navy and partner nation militaries came together to share experiences, build relationships and develop professionally during Women’s Leadership Symposiums.
More than 150 servicewomen from three partner nations participated in the symposiums, which included discussions and group activities focused on examining leadership styles of women in the navy.
Chief Hospitalman Kadia Griffin, who has worked with each host nation to coordinate the Indo-Pacific CARAT WLS for several years, said including women’s leadership was part of the natural evolution of CARAT.
“CARAT is still as relevant today as it was 25 years ago, because it continues to evolve,” said Griffin. “We focus on building capacity and interoperability, so it makes sense that we could focus on helping the women in our militaries lead to our full potential.”
CARAT is an adaptable, flexible exercise focused on addressing shared maritime security concerns. The exercises also build people-to-people relationships through professional exchanges and symposiums, to include a focus on women’s leadership. In 2019, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia hosted events, providing a unique opportunity to discuss the challenges women in leadership positions may face.
Lt. Tabitha McAdams, an operations planner from Destroyer Squadron 7 who participated in this year’s symposiums, explained the purpose of the leadership events was to celebrate women who have paved the way through successful careers in nation’s armed forces and to empower military women to forge new opportunities for women, today and in the future.
While CARAT just marked its 25th year, women’s leadership has only been a part of the events since 2016.
Capt. Ann McCann, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7, said Women’s Leadership Symposiums are an important addition to strengthening maritime security.
“People-to-people engagements with our partners and allies, like women’s leadership symposiums, give us great opportunities to work shoulder-to-shoulder, and to both teach and learn from one other,” said McCann. “As we continue to strengthen our Indo-Pacific partnerships on a personal level, we build trust, capacity and capability.”
Chief Yeoman Megan Street, who participated in two women's leadership forums over the past years, said the events are an opportunity to better understand our own Navy core values.
“Actions speak louder than words - especially across cultures,” said Street. “We can talk about honor, courage and commitment, but having a comfortable, engaging setting like the women's forum allows us to open up with each other and discuss how we can practically apply those values every day. We share as much as we learn and come out stronger and more resilient.”
Common discussion topics included the history of women’s military service, finding common experiences from serving in different nations’ militaries, and highlighting the benefits of an integrated and diverse military.
“Something that we all had in common, no matter the country, was a strong desire to serve,” said Griffin. “It was inspiring for me to meet women who are the trailblazers, the first in their militaries to fly or command – it helps me appreciate the women who have led the way in our own Navy.”
Griffin explained the setting was important for building trust and establishing a comfortable forum for participants to address difficult circumstances women may face in military, such as harassment and discrimination.
“Over the past three years, we've been talking more and more about the hard topics, and we are starting to see less reluctance in addressing these topic,” said Griffin, who maintains relationships with some of the women she has met through the leadership events. “Our way may not be the best way for everyone, but we’re willing to share our experiences and offer an example to help others. It’s been very rewarding to hear that some policy initiatives in our host nations have come from our WLS.”
“Our open group and panel discussions have made me realized how far the U.S. Navy has come with integration of women in service,” said McAdams. “These conversations with our female counterparts are helping them see a model for success.”
CARAT builds upon other engagements in South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands including Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission, Maritime Training Activity Malaysia, Maritime Training Activity Philippines, Pacific Griffin with Singapore and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), which involves nearly a dozen partner nations. These engagements bring like-minded naval forces together routinely based on shared values and maritime security interests.
As U.S. 7th Fleet's executive agent for theater security cooperation in South and Southeast Asia, Commander, Task Force 73 and Destroyer Squadron 7 conduct advanced planning, organize resources, and directly support the execution of CARAT and other engagements in the region.