Feelings about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars aside–one outcome that can’t be argued with is that wartime has pushed women up the ranks in the US military, and many are mothers. More than 100,000 females soldiers who have served in the wars are mothers, nearly half of the women who have been deployed. It is a figure that demonstrates that the face of the military is changing. So, to highlight and salute these women with families, we name the Most Powerful Moms in all branches of the military. So how did we choose workingmother.com’s Most Powerful Moms in the Military? First, the women on this list are all high ranking, decorated officers, currently serving in a military outfit or in the Pentagon. We made an effort to pull women from the complete range of US military organizations–from the Navy, to the Army, to the Coast Guard. They also all have at least one child at home who is under 18 years old.
The women on this list are true groundbreakers. Many of them have accomplished a first for women in the military. Brigadier General Michele Gillen is the first woman to lead the Pacific region in the US Army, where she is in charge of 3,300 reservists. Lieutenant Sarah Deal Burrow was the first woman aviator in the Marines. And Lieutenant General Janet Wolfenbarger, now the highest-ranking woman in the Air Force, was among the first women accepted in the Air Force Academy in 1980.
While women are certainly serving in high military posts today, the unique demands placed on military moms haven’t subsided. Long tours of duty take military moms away from their children for months at time, moving is a way of life, and many military moms have husbands who are serving as well. Military life comes with a lot of sacrifices. When Lieutenant General Wolfenbarger found her Air Force husband re-stationed when her daughter was young, she essentially became a single parent. “[My husband] always said I had it harder then, but I say he had to miss all those things with Callie [my daughter]," she says. "Most folks didn't know how I did it." Despite the difficulties of finding work-life balance, Wolfenbarger said she had the self-confidence to keep pushing in her career, which allowed her to rise up the ranks.
Rear Admiral Christine Bruzek-Kohler, who overseas the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, says, “Your family has to be foremost. There isn’t a magic formula but balancing your work with your family has to be a priority.” Bruzek-Kohler has combated her busy work life by setting a schedule that factors in her family. She says she steps away from her hectic career for family meals or that school softball game when she knows it’s important.
Many military moms point to the prevalence of mentoring and support among women in the military for helping them advance and cope. Bruzek-Kohler regularly finds women in her office asking for advice. “I am grateful that now there are so many more women role models for younger women who are coming up the ranks to look to for support,” she says. “It wasn’t like that when I started my career.”
Women like Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Booker, who serves in the Coast Guard, are thinking of unique ways to support military moms. She created the ‘Moms Book’ helping women aviators get through their pregnancies and spearheaded a Coast Guard blog, which helps those serving in the Coast Guard better connect. The Internet revolution has certainly helped–online groups for military moms have sprouted up on Facebook, blogs and other online forums.
Other women’s leadership groups, like the Sea Services Leadership Association, celebrate and support our women in uniform. They held a conference this June (2010) in Washington, DC that was attended by more than 900 individuals–mostly women in the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard. The group gave their Women’s Diversity Champion Award to Working Mother Media President Carol Evans and offered a breakout session for working mothers who are trying to find ways to make the military more family friendly. High-ranking women with older children said they are trying to find new ways to support each other and that commanders should be prepared to do just that. But a number of the moms, particularly with military spouses, said they would like to see more resources behind crucial services for military families. This assistance will certainly help our military moms better protect and serve, and keep a strong force in place.