March was Women’s History Month, a time dedicated to increasing knowledge and awareness of the important contributions of women, both past and present. In celebration of Women’s History Month and to bring the month filled with activities to a close, Luke Air Force Base Airmen held a WHM closing ceremony luncheon March 27. Col. Yolanda Bledsoe, 56th Medical Group commander, was the guest speaker.
According to the Library of Congress website, Women’s History Month has its origin in 1982 when Congress passed Public Law 97-28 which authorized and requested the president to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” In 1987, after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Public Law 100-9 which designated the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”
“Women’s History Month is a designated time to reflect on the accomplishments of women and honor their role in shaping the course of the nation’s history,” said 1st Lt. Christie Taylor, 309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant officer-in-charge, and master of ceremony for the luncheon.
The 2013 theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.”
“The purpose of this theme is to honor generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder and tenacity to make contributions to fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she said.
Inspiration, to me, generates imagination, Bledsoe said.
“There are several people that immediately come to mind as my inspiration,” she said.
Bledsoe spoke about three women who inspired her. One, a divorced, single mom with three children was the caretaker of her parents. She worked two jobs for more than 20 years, demanded excellence of her children, expected honesty and earned respect. Her name was Lila Garlick.
The second, Alliese Patterson, who raised five children on her own and opened her doors countless times to provide a home for more than 100 foster children throughout her life.
The third woman Bledsoe spoke of was Gertrude Mealer. She spent more than 18 years of her life taking care of Bledsoe needs, making sure she completed her homework and providing her with love.
“You won’t find any of their names in a history book,” Bledsoe said. “Those ladies I talk about today are my mother and my two grandmothers, and they instilled in me a foundation that inspired me to be imaginative in what I wanted to do, to consider the impossible and go after it, and encouraged me to be successful.”
Bledsoe also mentioned her daughter, Britni, another person who inspires her.
“Every day she truly challenges me to be innovative with solutions to problems and, most importantly, she affords me the opportunity to see the wonderful promise of our future and what our future holds for our next generation,” she said.
Bledsoe steered her words to notable moments for females in military history.
She talked about Grace Peterson, who was promoted to chief master sergeant as one of the first set of nine senior NCOs promoted to E-9 in 1960. Jeanne Holm was the first female promoted to brigadier general in 1971, and Marcelite Harris, a career aircraft maintainer, who became the first African-American female general of the Air Force in 1991.
“Today, our women are allowed to pursue careers in almost any field of their choosing, to include combat-related career fields, all because of those who have come before us,” Bledsoe said. “They had big dreams and they worked their way toward their goals.
“When you have inspiration that generates imagination, opportunities typically form from all of those innovative ideas that come from those people who have dreams,” she said. “However, opportunity often presents itself as work; it doesn’t necessarily present itself wrapped with a bow as if a gift to you. You’re typically going to have to work hard for it, and you’re going to have to stay the course to make it happen.”
Bledsoe mentioned Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, whose mission statement includes the words “[we are] the world’s greatest Air Force – powered by Airmen, fueled by innovation.”
“It goes without saying that the Air Force will continue to require us to be innovative in what we do each and every day,” she said. “We need to be innovative professionals, not just men, not just women, pioneering professionals [in] health science and technology innovations with operational requirements.”
The MDG commander challenged guests to take up leadership opportunities as they present themselves but also to ensure there is a diverse group at the leadership table to help make choices and decisions for the Air Force mission moving forward.
“Diversity encourages creative solutions to complex problems and provides the Air Force with a greater competitive edge in the air, space, certainly in the medical community, and in cyberspace,” she said. “As leaders, we must create an environment that promotes mutual respect and trust while promoting the development and mentoring of our Airmen from all walks of life, backgrounds and perspectives.
“All of this starts with heritage months like what we’re celebrating today,” Bledsoe said. “It is not just women’s history, it’s American history, it’s military history.”
Bledsoe quoted Sir Isaac Newton who said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“All of those ladies I talked about before, I stand on their shoulders each and every day,” she said.