EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — The final Women’s History Month event, “Refusing to be Silenced” virtual panel, convened March 25 here at Luke’s Place.
The panelists were: Lt. Col. Kelly Strong, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment Two director of staff; Senior Master Sgt. Natasha McCracken, 96th Security Forces Squadron first sergeant; Master Sgt. Shannon Cassinelli, 96th Operations Support Squadron Duke Field deputy airfield manager and Lauren Barboza, Eglin’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator.
They addressed questions about refusing to be silenced in their careers; using leadership skills in a male-dominated organization; balancing their careers, personal lives and passions; women who joined the workforce before them; experiencing resistance to expanding their approaches to diversity and inclusion; and encouraging equal contributions during meetings.
Strong said the credentials she accumulated in her 24-year career have allowed her grow into a more vocal leader.
“I was afraid that not speaking out about certain issues was looked at as a sign of weakness,” she said. “Now, I’m more outspoken and passionate about issues. I believe my speaking out about issues helps women, who may be afraid to do so, to also speak out.”
For Cassinelli, belief in herself and consistency in demonstrating leadership shines through in a male-dominated organization.
“If you have heart and believe in what you’re doing, you don’t have to prove your leadership skills,” she said. “The type of person you display to people will show the leadership skills you need to push your career forward.”
A married mother of two, McCracken said communication is key in maintaining work/life balance in her family.
“It’s not about me, it’s about we,” she said of her active-duty Air Force husband. “We talk about career choices and assignments on a regular basis. We work as a team as we pursue our career goals, while focusing on our family.”
Barboza reflected on the legacy of Air Force women who made a lasting impact on her career.
“The mentors I had during my career provided me with valuable guidance and opportunities,” the security forces veteran said. “Many other women passed on the mantle of legacy to me, and the panelists here are creating a legacy for the next generation to build upon.”
As a young Airman at her first duty station, McCracken experienced exclusion from co-workers who assumed women got pregnant to avoid working on the flight line.
“I decided to go to the flight line with a positive attitude,” she said. “My mindset was to do my job to the best of my ability and that’s what I did. I chose to ignore the negativity. Over time the acceptance came, but I didn’t need it to do my job.”
Finally, Strong said all women should make themselves heard in meetings.
“If we are at the meeting, we have a voice in the meeting,” she said. “Women need to step up and take their moment in meetings. If we have something to say, we need to say it and not be silent.”
Story By Kevin Gaddie