|WASHINGTON, March 25, 2009 – Ten servicemembers and civilians were honored last week as part of the Defense Department's Women's History Month Observance and Awards Program. (See photo below)|
The recipients were awarded the 2009 Foreign Language and Science, Engineering and Math Role Model Award on March 19 at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the gates of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. "For generations, women across our great land have helped make our country stronger and better," Gail H. McGinn, deputy undersecretary of defense for plans, said. "They have improved our communities and played a vital role in achieving justice and equal rights for all our citizens.
“The [Defense Department] joins our nation to recognize the many contributions women make to our society and ensure that the history of American women is recognized."
Army Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Rhonda Cornum, director of the Army's comprehensive soldier fitness program, gave the keynote address.
The general said during her years as a junior officer, she was largely unaware of the challenges women had faced in military service prior to her arrival. She said it was those who came before her who carved the path.
"We really need to recognize and celebrate those ladies who just kind of went through uncharted territory with machetes," Cornum said. "People like me who come after that think that path has always been there and it just has not been. I really did not appreciate that until somewhat recently."
Many women are recognized as "firsts" in the military, Cornum said first female general officer, first female commander of a unit, first female four-star general. Cornum said she believes many women don't want to be firsts, but rather just hope to progress in their career.
"As a jockey in my other life, I didn't want to be the first girl on a horse to get across the finish line," she said. "I wanted my horse to get across. It didn't matter to me the gender of the jockeys behind me."
Cornum also said there are many who could be the best at what they do, but it is simply a matter of letting those people compete.
"We will then invariably get the best performance for the entire force," she said.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Andrea Lynn Sacchetti was one of the 10 servicemembers recognized at the ceremony. She has served in uniform for 13 years and has been a helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard for about a decade. She said that the women of the Coast Guard who came before her have paved the way, allowing her to progress in her own career.
"There are a lot of women who have done a lot of things before me, so it gave me the opportunities to do the things I want to do with my job," she said.
Sacchetti does mostly search and rescue for the Coast Guard, she said. She was nominated for the award in part for her service in the Arctic, where she was hand-picked to lead the Coast Guard's first land-based, forward-operating location in the region during Operation Salliq.
"I was chosen to be the senior aviator for the Coast Guard's first forward-operating location base up in Barrow, Alaska I ran an aviation detachment up there," she said. "We are doing research to see what kind of Coast Guard assets we may or may not need to place up in the Arctic as a result of sea ice moving away from the land."
In the Arctic, she said, dangers include both weather and indigenous animals.
"The weather can be unpredictable, and in the Arctic you have to worry about predators as well, if you do have to do an emergency landing," she said.
Sacchetti said she next expects to serve in a staff job or as an operations officer.
Army Lt. Col. Felicia Langel, another recipient, is a veterinary corps officer and holds a doctorate in biomedical research. She works at the Uniformed Services University, and previously served at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. There, she studied both anthrax and Q fever.
Langel also worked to help grade school and high school students develop a better appreciation for science and math by bringing them into the laboratory and exposing them to science and technology that many students would not see until college-level courses.
"For the younger students it's very basic chemistry and biology," she said. "But what we try to do is put it in a real-world scenario so they can appreciate there is a value to learning science so it's not just science text books, but a real life application for science. In fact, we expose them to experimental procedures that usually people learn in college."
Sometimes the concepts are a little advanced for some young students, but the goal is not to teach them science, but to give them an appreciation for it to spark an interest and show them they can do it too, Langel said.
"It's not important to us if some is over their heads or not, what we are trying to do is excite them about the possibilities and to just see a glimmer of comprehension it is rewarding for us," she said.
Langel said she hopes to become a professor at the Uniformed Services University, and would like to continue working with youth as well.
The honorees include:
Army, Military: Langel
Army, Civilian: Christina Brantley
Navy, Military: Lt. Cmdr. Cheryll H. Hawthorne
Navy, Civilian: Camille Destafney
Marine Corps: Maj. Denise Garcia
Air Force: Maj. Ramsamooj J. Reyes
National Guard Bureau: Army Lt. Col. Susan I. Pangelinan
Coast Guard: Sacchetti
Defense Threat Reduction Agency: Irene Nehonov
Defense Contract Management Agency: Julie Harmon