SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Female naval aviators from across the country convened at the Admiral Kidd Club on Naval Base Point Loma June 23-24 to attend the 2015 Female Aviators Career and Training Symposium (FACTS).
The nearly 200 attendees included female aviators from the ranks of ensign to admiral with both male and female guest speakers spanning chief petty officer to admiral. The theme guiding this year's symposium was "Fly, Fight, Lead: Mission Planning for Success" and covered a wide range of topics including talent management, operational leadership and mentorship strategies.
Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander, Naval Air Forces, and commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, not in attendance, provided a welcome message for the attendees.
"We must maintain the wholeness of our existing aviation forces," Shoemaker said describing the importance of viewing naval aviation as a "team sport".
His message led directly into the overarching themes of the symposium that focused on professional knowledge and development with the intention it will spread throughout all of the wardrooms in the fleet.
Rear Adm. Kenneth R. Whitesell, assistant commander, Navy Personnel Command (PERS-4), launched the symposium with remarks on the Navy's latest talent management initiatives.
According to Whitesell, the Navy faces numerous talent management challenges, including the fact "women are the most underrepresented demographic, and not enough are staying in."
To solve these challenges, the Navy is about to embark on a new frontier of talent management initiatives with policy changes focused on modernizing the personnel system, enriching culture and providing ready and relevant learning supported by innovation and information technology.
"There is nothing sacred out there right now," said Whitesell, on barriers to improving the personnel system. "If there is a policy, we'll change it; if there is a law, we will urge legislative action. Everything is on the table."
Many of the new initiatives focus on employing tools successfully implemented in the civilian sector while still maintaining an operational workforce. These include expansion and customization of the Career Intermission Program, removing the rigid constraints of timing for promotion and advancement, increasing the ability of commanding officers to manage talent at the command level, reducing roadblocks to alternate career paths and finding ways to provide support for the lifestyle the Navy requires, including expanded hours at child development centers.
While the secretary of defense is already reviewing some of the new objectives, many more require new and innovative solutions.
According to Whitesell, "flexibility is the name of the game," and working groups are seeking out of the box ideas from the fleet.
Recently deployed Carrier Strike Group 1 Commander, Rear Adm. Christopher Grady, provided fleet perspectives and spoke on the importance Naval Aviation and the U.S. carrier fleet contributes to advancing U.S. objectives in foreign areas of responsibility (AOR).
The successful completion of 2,375 combat sorties during the strike group's recent deployment to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet AOR was a direct result of naval aviation's "constant commitment to tactical excellence throughout the Fleet Response Plan," said Grady.
With reference to his experience with female aviators on deployment, Grady stated, "Gender does not matter in combat or in upholding the standard of excellence. [Female] tactical leaders were represented in every squadron."
Chief of Navy Reserve and Commander, Navy Reserve Force, Vice Adm. Robin R. Braun delivered one of the highlights of the symposium, a presentation regarding "Authentic Leadership."
"Nobody had told me that women couldn't do everything the guys could do," said Braun, regarding the limited pipelines available to women early in her career. "I'm going to go and do the best that I can do; you never know when it will open up."
Today, 96 percent of billets offered by the Navy are open to women, including combat aviation.
"Take what you see from those around you," said Braun. "Be true to yourself, be true to who you are, and don't stereotype what a leader is...you are carrying a tremendous legacy, and we are immensely proud of you."
The symposium concluded with a leadership panel focused on "Operational Leadership," comprised of Rear Adm. Sandy Daniels, commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group and commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Group Pacific; Capt. Heidi Fleming, commanding officer, Naval Air Station Patuxent River; and former operational squadron commanding officers, Cmdr. Tamara Graham, Cmdr. Jennifer Wilderman, Cmdr. Erin Osborne, and Cmdr. Molly Boron.
Naval aviation is known for promoting a challenging path to command often referred to as the "golden path", but according to Daniels the "True golden path is providing leadership opportunities."
"Every step along the way the Navy prepares you for the next," said Fleming. "Do not miss an opportunity to learn."
An attendee asked the panel when an officer knows he or she is ready for command.
"You know you are ready for command when you have a vision for that command and where you want it to be," said Daniels.
Female aviators have had a long and impactful history with the Navy, and as retention rates rise, they will continue to contribute to future successes with their individual leadership styles, drive to succeed and the talent they bring to the fight.
Boron spoke of closed doors and open windows, adding a bit of sage advice: "You might not have a choice in the challenge, but you have a choice in how you react to the challenge."
This symposium served to emphasize the importance Navy leadership places in fostering the development of their leaders and the seriousness of their views towards increasing collaboration within the fleet. In the words of Vice Adm. Shoemaker, "We need your talents and perspectives to continue moving this great institution forward...I look forward to seeing you out in the fleet!"
For more news from Commander, Naval Air Forces, visit www.navy.mil/local/airpac/.