Last week, the White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control Liz Sherwood-Randall addressed over 700 women at the Sea Service Leadership Association’s (SSLA) 26th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium (JWLS) at National Harbor, MD. The JWLS is one way that the SSLA encourages women’s professional development across the Services.
Liz is responsible for coordinating U.S. government policies and initiatives aimed at ensuring the American military is fully prepared to face our current adversaries, as well as be prepared for challenges down the road. She also leads the White House’s Health of the Force Coordinating Group (HFCG), which is currently focused on the problem of sexual assault in the military.
Liz opened by saying that the 2013 JWLS theme of “Stronger self, stronger service” was great because it is consistent with the example set by the Commander in Chief and the First Lady – who not only “talk the talk”, but “walk the walk” in demonstrating what it means to be strong in mind, body, and spirit.
Describing the President’s commitment to our military, she said he is determined to ensure “that you have the training, equipment and support that you need when you are deployed, and the care that your families need and deserve at home.” She also emphasized the importance of supporting wounded warriors, mental health, and military family members.
Liz also highlighted First Lady Michelle Obama’s and Dr. Jill Biden’s signature cause, Joining Forces. In April, the President, Vice President, First Lady, and Dr. Biden announced that the Administration nearly tripled their original goal to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses in the private sector by the end of 2013.
On the urgent topic of sexual assault in the military, Liz said, “We cannot tolerate sexual assault in the military. It is a violation of everything you stand for – and that you put your lives on the line for around the world.” She noted that the Pentagon recently launched a new online chat room called Safe HelpRoom which enables victims of sexual assault to make confidential connections to peer support services.
Liz concluded her remarks by calling on the female uniformed leaders in the audience to drive change within the military which can, in turn, positively influence American society – just as the military has driven social change in the past. She also shared some advice from former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, for whom she worked at the Pentagon during the Clinton Administration: “’…the hardest problems are the ones that are most worth working on – and… through our determination and ingenuity we can make a real difference in solving them.’”
Lieutenant Colonel Archie Bates, US Army, is a White House Fellow in the Office of the First Lady