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Home : Media : Speeches / Testimony
NEWS | March 15, 2017

Women’s History Month Commemoration

By ADM Harry B. Harris, Jr. U.S. Pacific Command

Adm. Harry Harris
Commander, U.S. Pacific Command

Women’s History Month Commemoration
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii

March 15, 2017
As Prepared for Delivery

Ladies and gentlemen: William Shakespeare once said that ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’ I’m also keenly aware of the fact that my remarks are the only thing between you and your lunch. That said, I’d rather you remember me as someone witty than as someone who kept you from eating on time, so I promise you that my remarks will be brief... but also of consequence, as I ask for your help.

It’s truly an honor to have this opportunity to speak to you on such an important occasion. The history of our military is filled with stories of courageous women and men who dared to fly, sail, march, fight, and win. Because we’re celebrating Women’s History Month, I’ll focus on the contributions of women.

From the Revolutionary War to current conflicts around the world, women have played a crucial role in the security of our nation and the success of the U.S. military.

I know I don’t have to tell this audience that women have been in the fight all along. Women serve throughout our joint force as commanders, pilots, security forces, submariners, drivers and gunners during battle convoy missions, medics, and in so many other ways too countless to mention. Throughout history, women have demonstrated competence, character, and commitment in all facets of our noble profession.

In our Army, women have served in a variety of roles since the very beginning. Women like Margaret Corbin, who was wounded while operating artillery in the defense of Fort Washington during the Revolutionary War; to Dr. Mary Walker who received the Medal of Honor for her services at the First Battle of Bull Run – the only woman recipient of this award.

In World War I, over 400 Army nurses made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. The contributions of Army women in World War II included that of First Lieutenant Reba Whittle, a flight nurse. She was the only U.S. female soldier to be imprisoned as a POW in the European theater when her plane was shot down over Germany.

Significant contributions continue to our era where women like Silver Star recipient Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester have deployed on the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. And in 2008, the Army promoted General Ann Dunwoody as our nation’s first woman four star officer.

In our Marine Corps, Private Opha Mae Johnson enlisted in 1918 as the first female Marine. Ever since her trailblazing service, the role of women in the Marine Corps has grown. And in December 2015, the Secretary of Defense announced that the Marine Corps would open all combat positions, without exceptions, to women for the first time.

When we look to the skies for women as trailblazers, we see that the Army Air Forces formed the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment in September 1942.

The two organizations merged to form the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots – now remembered by history as the WASPs. These were the first women to pilot American military aircraft.

Fast-forward to 2016, when the Air Force became the first Service to have women leading in its top two civilian positions at the same time when Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James was joined by Lisa Disbrow as Undersecretary. During that timeframe, PACAF was also commanded by the Air Force’s first female four-star Commander, General Lori Robinson. A warrior’s warrior, Lori has since shattered one more glass ceiling by becoming our nation’s first female Combatant Commander. The safety of our homeland – the safety of the United States – is in good hands at NORAD and NORTHCOM with her at the helm.

Women have built an incredible legacy in our Navy as well. Rear Admiral "Amazing" Grace Hopper is a historical role model with unmatched technical skills and foresight. In 1943, during World War II, Hopper joined the Naval Reserves and became a programmer for the world’s first large scale computer, the Mark One. Hopper entered the Navy with a PhD in Math and Physics from Yale and gained recognition as the ‘Mother of Computing’ for her technical expertise. The mighty destroyer bearing her namesake is homeported right here in Pearl Harbor.

We see her legacy in today’s Navy where top leadership positions are filled by women. From the Third Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Nora Tyson, to our Navy’s first female 4-star Flag Officer, Admiral Michelle Howard, who is now Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.

I’ll offer one more trailblazing leader for women’s history in the Navy who happens to be stationed right here in Hawaii and is in the audience today. Master Chief Susan Whitman is the first woman to serve as the Senior Enlisted Leader for U.S. Pacific Fleet, the world’s largest naval command with more than 160,000 active duty and reserve sailors who operate approximately 180 ships and 1,500 aircraft.

Leaders like the ones I’ve mentioned and throughout our military today are testament to a proud legacy of the women who have served in our nation’s Joint force. These examples are obviously not all inclusive. And, in my almost 39 years of service I’ve seen a great deal of progress made as we’ve become a more inclusive force. For instance, when I was plebe at the Naval Academy – way back in 1974 – there were exactly zero female midshipmen. Thankfully, we got that fixed starting in 1976 – probably before any of you were born. Fast forward to the Naval Academy class of 2020 – 326 of the 1,177 midshipmen are women, about 28 percent.

Or consider my headquarters staff at Camp Smith. It’s filled with high-performing leaders. In fact, the 234 women on the PACOM staff comprise 34 percent of the workforce. Warriors like my Deputy E.A. Lieutenant Colonel Liz Martin, a Blackhawk pilot who is about to take command here in Hawaii in May. And like my top lawyer Captain Stacy Pedrozo. And like my J-5 Deputy and proud U.H. grad Brigadier General Suzy Vares-Lum – who, by the way, was just notified that she will be awarded the 2017 NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her work in diversity. And like my J-6 Director Rear Admiral Kathy Creighton. And like my aide-de-camp standing right over there, surface warrior Lieutenant Commander Adrienne Roseti. 

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point that PACOM couldn’t function without all of our teammates.

What these numbers and examples should tell you is that we’ve come a long way in recognizing the value of women in helping our military becoming a more lethal and effective force. But just imagine if these patriots went on strike, as so many women did last Wednesday on International Women’s Day. The absence of 34 percent of my staff would be crippling.

And let me be blunt here – we absolutely need to do more to ensure that our own workforce understands that we can never tolerate misogynistic thinking or actions. The recent revelation of individuals posting online nude photos of our female teammates and making lewd or threatening comments about them are clear indications that our work is not yet done.

I agree with my good friends, the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Bob Neller, and the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, who both have said that we have to confront these types of problems head on. In teams, there’s no room for bystanders. The lack of respect for the dignity of anyone wearing the cloth of our nation is divisive and unacceptable. We will not excuse or tolerate toxic behavior.

We can’t let up on the effort it will take to improve. So I’m challenging each and every one of you to do your part in continuing to move our military forward in the right direction. We all deserve to be recognized for our merits and not held back by our genetics, especially the number of X chromosomes.

We need to take care of each other by focusing on what we all have in common – a love for our country. We want to welcome every Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airmen, Coast Guardsman, and DoD civilian into a military family they will proudly call their own.

Now that I’ve given you a call to action, I’ll keep my promise to be brief. So I’ll close by saying that each of our nation’s Service members – women and men both – have volunteered to put on the uniform and serve our nation. No one chose it for them. They’ve chosen their own destiny.

Ladies and gentlemen, our nation continues to draw strength from those who have served in the past, and those who are serving today. And our nation will continue to draw strength from those who will serve tomorrow and in the coming decades – an unbroken chain, linking Americans, generation to generation. I’m proud of all you do, and I’m honored to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with each of you. Our nation is better because of your service. Thank you very much.

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