Home : Media : Speeches

Adm. Winnefeld's Remarks at the Joint Women's Leadership Symposium


By As Delivered by Admiral James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld, Jr., National Harbor, Md.
Well good morning everybody! It’s great to be here, great to see you. Thank you very much, CDR Sullivan for that very kind introduction. From being back stage, it sounds like we have a very feisty audience here today. (Laughter). Very good. Thank you for not boo-ing when the men were recognized. We all appreciate that. It’s very, very much appreciated. (Laughter).

And I think it’s really neat to see how many sponsors you have for this great event. I think that’s a real indication of the stature of this organization and the importance of what you’re doing, so thank you to the sponsors, but thank you to the people who arranged getting the sponsors—I think it’s terrific.

Now I’m told this is the largest gathering of military women in the world, and I’m happy to see that it includes some of our international partners. Great to see you guys here.

While my wife Mary is wondering why on earth you would invite someone who is, in her words, “pale, male, and stale” to open (laughter) – to open this event, I want you to know I’m honored to be here and delighted to be here at the 26th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium.

Now I select my speaking opportunities very, very carefully, and accepting this one was a no-brainer. Now in saying that, I don’t want to say that you’re very lucky for having me here, it’s me who is the lucky one for having this opportunity to speak with you this morning.

Why? Well, for two reasons.

First, at least two important women-in-the-military issues have been prevalent in our discourse lately, and I welcome the opportunity to weigh in with my thoughts with this very, very important audience.

Second, I’ve been a long-time advocate of providing women greater opportunities in military service.

It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do—and candidly, in my case, the selfish thing to do. Why shouldn’t I capitalize on the immense pool of talented women in our Armed Forces?

From the moment women were permitted to join combat units, I have personally benefitted from bringing them onto the team, from hiring the first female command master chief in a U.S. Navy seagoing squadron in 1994 to having remarkable and trusted Yeoman Second Class Ginger Cotton working directly for me as the XO [executive officer] on the USS John C. Stennis, to hiring full time reserve Master Chief Petty Officer Nancy Hollingsworth to be my Strike Group master chief. She went on to be the command master chief on a ship and is now a force master chief, and she can run faster and farther than just about any man I know. To hiring incredibly talented Lieutenant Colonel Mona Alexander, who is now the commander of a KC-10 squadron deployed to the Middle East, to serve as my aide-de-camp when I was the Commander of United States Northern Command. To the amazing Colonel Janice Chen, an Army missile defense officer, serving today as my Deputy Executive Assistant.

These are all incredible people whom I admire and trust greatly, and who have served with honor and distinction.

And there are thousands and thousands and thousands just like them.

Including those who have set the standard, and those who continue to break barriers.

We all know of successful barrier breakers like General Janet Wolfenbarger, the current commander of Air Force Materiel Command, and of course, the first woman to serve as a four-star general in both the Army and the U.S. armed forces, General Ann Dunwoody, who retired last year after 38 years of service.

Women like soon-to-be Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson, who I had the privilege of working with on the Joint Staff several years ago, who is on her way to be—to have one of the premier leadership positions in the Air Force as the Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy. And Rear Admiral Peg Klein on the front lines as chief of staff over at CYBERCOM [U.S. Cyber Command].

Vice Admiral Michelle Howard, currently Deputy United States Fleet Forces, on her way to become the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for operations, plans and strategy, and Rear Admiral Nora Tyson, who is here today, soon headed down to be Michelle’s relief and was the first woman to command a U.S. Navy carrier strike group.

We had to nudge the system a little bit to get Nora into the strike group job, not only because she was the first woman to do so, but also because she came from an aviation community that doesn’t ordinarily get those jobs.

But Nora had paid her dues at sea, and I can tell you all about it since she was my navigator when I was on the USS Enterprise. She was a great choice; she smashed through both of those barriers and did a great job.

Of course she did.

And today we, you are going to honor the association’s two North Star Award Winners, who are being recognized during this year’s symposium for lifetime achievement.

We’re immensely proud of General Angela Salinas and Admiral Carol Pottenger who are great examples of the heritage of female leaders who have lived the slogan of this symposium by being inspired by their past and staying focused on the future of our military.

History speaks volumes of female warriors who have fought on the same battlefields as men.

There will be more in the future. We need more in the future.

Yes, it’s quite clear that women will continue to leave their mark as key contributors to our military's mission of defending this great nation.

Women represent 15 percent of our Joint Force, more than 200,000 strong.

They have relentlessly and successfully stepped into shoes previously only worn by men and will continue to do so.

We now have a woman, Captain Sara Joyner, serving as an air wing commander in the Navy, and we’re sending Captain Lisa Franchetti to lead our naval forces—warfighting forces in Korea.

Women are now on submarines. Are any of you in the audience? You’re probably all out at sea. (Laughter).

Someone told me the other today that he told the commander of our submarine force he’d better tell his current officers to watch out, because these women have been carefully selected, and they’re powerfully motivated to succeed and will end up running circles around the men in that important business. And that’s a consistent theme.

Despite all the hand wringing about cultural factors of having women in combat units, the fact of the matter is that you make the whole team better.

Women are an integral part of who we are as a Joint Force and what we’re able to accomplish worldwide as a military power.

For more than a decade of war now, women have demonstrated courage, skill and patriotism in combat.

More than a hundred and fifty women in uniform and many more [have] been wounded—have perished serving our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, a great many female service members have faced the reality of combat, and proven a willingness to fight and, yes, die in the defense of our nation.

It’s been 65 years since Congress legislated that women become part of our armed forces.

It was almost 20 years ago that the policy was set in place barring women from direct ground combat positions – well prior to our last twelve years of armed conflict.

Attitudes have changed, and reality has changed, and with it what it means to serve in the United States military.

When the Joint Chiefs recommended about four months ago to the Secretary of Defense that we lift the exclusion policy, we committed to a deliberate process with the potential to open every career field to women and do it in a way that builds unit readiness, morale and cohesion.

The principles of equal standards, equal opportunity, and equal chance for success guided the services in developing their implementation plans recently shown to the Secretary of Defense.

Ultimately, they will enhance our nation’s biggest warfighting advantage -- our people.

In the last year alone, we opened thousands of jobs to women in ground combat units, units that happen to be in combat. And we’re now moving forward to eliminate additional, unnecessary barriers.

This means making sure we have correct standards in place, enabling us to fill each job with the most qualified person.

We should have had these standards in place all along.

The validation of these gender-neutral standards will allow us to select from the entire pool—of the wonderful pool of talent we have—based on nothing more than the ability they have matched to mission requirement.

We’re working to open opportunity for all our people, not limit it based on some arbitrary exclusion.

The fundamental question has shifted from “why women?” to “why not women?”

I can tell you quite candidly from our discussions in the Tank, where the joint chiefs meet, that your service chiefs want the women in their services to be and to continue to be successful, and thus want the shift towards combat inclusion to be successful. And in so doing, we believe critical mass in units is important.

Thus, as we introduce women into previously closed mission areas, we believe they must be integrated at multiple leadership levels, but that need not be a barrier, as there are a lot of different ways to do this successfully.

Expanding opportunities for women to serve in direct combat roles may take a little time, with full implementation approved by the Secretary set for January 1st 2016.

But we will achieve our goal of making sure the best-qualified person is filling every billet.

Now several of the women with whom I work tell me this declaration was not all that monumental.

They have been there, they’ve done that. For them, this is about nothing more or less than getting the right people, with the right qualifications, into the right jobs.

For them, as for many of you I’m sure, these “barriers” have been more than speed bumps that have slowed progress, but have never truly been able to stop determined people from advancing.

Like breaking through racial barriers, we will know we have this right when we don’t even find ourselves talking about it.

We will just move on, knowing that with the right people in the right jobs, our military team is at its absolute best.

And we need to be at our best in order to overcome the considerable challenges we face.

I have plenty of daunting challenges in my three portfolios of policy—think Syria and Korea, investment—think sequester, and people. What gives me the greatest concern is the number one problem in my people portfolio, and that is the threat we face from within our own ranks.

We talk all the time about lethal insider threats in Afghanistan.

There’s nothing like being in a place where you’re just not sure if someone could do something at any moment that could profoundly change your life or end your life.

No one wants to live with that kind of intense fear.

But sadly, some of our brothers and sisters in arms experience a similar kind of fear every day, a type of fear generated by disrespect, and manifested as physical and mental anguish.

In addition to being life-changing for its victims, any form of unwanted sexual contact or sexual harassment is a different kind of insider attack that is lethal to our culture, to our morale . . . and to everything we are and everything we stand for.

We’ve worked hard on this, but not hard enough.

We should have done more to eliminate this insider threat years ago.

As Senator Levin said Tuesday, “discipline is the heart of our culture, and trust is its soul.”

And unless and until we get this right, we will erode the trust of our work force . . . and that of the moms and dads who lend us daughters and sons to us in the military.

We will not allow this to go on.

The American people expect more of us—all of us—anyone who shares the privilege of wearing the cloth of our nation.

I’m not here to point out that the men and women we bring into our military are nothing more than a cross-section of society.

That just doesn’t work as an explanation; it’s an excuse, and we don’t make excuses.

We are the best fighting force in the world because we take those who volunteer to serve and make them better through training, education, and leadership . . . developing their physical and moral courage, both on and off the battlefield.

When we fail, it’s time for us to look inward and fix the institutional problem, and not look outward and blame others.

We are a behavior-change organization, and we have not been doing a good enough job changing one of the most fundamentally unacceptable human behaviors within our ranks.

I’m also not here to talk about the use or abuse of statistics.

Folks, statistics are made up of real people, and they don’t show the real pain.

Even one victim, or one predator, or one bystander or boss who doesn’t do enough – is one statistic too many.

We can’t be afraid or daunted by our numbers—these statistics may get worse before they get better as people feel more comfortable reporting because they finally have confidence they will not face retribution or isolation and that offenders will be held accountable.

The key statistical trend we need to see are a higher percentage of unrestricted reports because women and men feel more confident in reporting, and then to see all these reports decrease because we’re stamping out these outrageous acts against our own people.

The simple truth is that we don't need women or men who are working in some of the most dangerous environments on the planet to be distracted by wondering if they will be in a safe environment when they’re off duty.

We will only have won this battle when anyone and everyone in the United States military feels safe in both environments, and that our entire force fiercely tolerates nothing less.

We find ourselves today in a crescendo of public attention—from the media and from Congress—on this issue, and rightfully so.

It has captured everyone’s attention.

We have to use this as an opportunity to be seized . . . to leverage this moment to redouble our sense of urgency, to get at the base of the problem, to reset the culture that defines our profession of arms.

Some say we’re past the time for talk and now is the time for action.

I say we need to throw everything we have at this, including talk, because the more we talk openly and widely about it the better we’ll understand the problem and change the culture.

But action is indeed the key.

Your services are working a host of initiatives – in Prevention, Investigation, Accountability, Advocacy, and Assessment -- to capture the breadth of action needed to get at this issue.

We’re finding ways for them to share their best practices.

We’re asking everyone to stand down and examine every aspect of this problem before the end of this month.

We’re going after every aspect of this problem we can find, from corrosive command climates to people who use power as a license to become predators.

Some of the things commanders are doing are very simple, like more supervision in our on-base living areas.

We in the Navy call that “deck plate” leadership.

I believe the greatest leverage we can use is to eliminate the sense of impunity the predator may feel by generating the powerful deterrent that exists when a person contemplating committing a crime believes it will be reported. And, if reported, it will be investigated quickly and professionally. And once investigated it will be prosecuted effectively regardless of how well an offender has otherwise performed. And if found guilty, the perpetrator will be punished and will no longer have the privilege of serving. And throughout the process, the victim will be treated with respect and provided the full range of support.

To help in this regard, every service turns these crimes over to their investigative branches, but we need to invest more in specially trained investigators.

We’re pushing for more victim assistance, including medical, psychological, and legal.

We’re looking closely at implementing force-wide the Air Force’s Special Victims Counsel pilot program. If it’s working, I think we should use it.

And it may be hard, but we’re going to look at the science of finding the behavioral factors associated with potential predators so we can lend more weight to prevention.

We are also working with Congress to assess the 22 pieces of pending legislation on this issue and capitalize on the good ideas that will help us win this battle by making our commanders—some of whom are in this room—more accountable, not less responsible.

We have a sense of urgency for winning the battle against this insider threat, but results are what really matters.

We need to give the services time for their efforts to work . . . but at the same time we—all of us— must keep the pressure on.

Trust is the coin of the realm for a military force built on moral and physical courage, teamwork, and mission success.

We will restore that trust.

Our institution has solved problems like this before, and we will do it again.

Now it’s my sense that this symposium continues to gather momentum. It’s an important forum.

I hope, over the next two days, you’ll find the chance to think, and learn, and network, and grow.

I hope you’ll find new ideas to help you strengthen yourself and strengthen your own service, and in so doing, strengthen our military.

Where those ideas can help me serve better, I want to hear them. Find a way to get them to me. My office is not hard to contact.

I leave you with two challenges:

First, embrace the expanding opportunities for you and for other women to serve in every capacity.

Don’t be content to watch the remaining barriers crumble. Lead over them, crush them.

Challenge yourself, challenge others, and in so doing, inspire those who follow.

And second, help lead us in restoring a military culture of trust that does not tolerate sexual harassment and sexual assault within our ranks.

Now, I want to tell you that I was out in San Diego on Monday, and I took the time to visit the Navy’s newest Littoral Combat Ship.

We put some of our best Sailors aboard these ships because every member of those very small crews has to be especially mature and skilled, and has to do many more jobs than the average Sailor.

There, I was pleased to meet Fire Controlman Chief Beth Simpson.

Because I told you earlier that I’ve been a long-time advocate of providing women greater opportunities, I’m always interested in talking to women on their deck plates, in leadership positions, to hear their stories.

I could tell right away Chief Simpson is working really hard, and is proud of her team and is doing a great job leading them in a very complex set of tasks. She really knows her stuff.

I told her I’d be speaking to a bunch of women warriors this week at a symposium, and asked her what I should tell you.

She simply said, “Hey, if you want a terrific, challenging job, then come to USS Fort Worth.”

As she replied, I wondered if it dawned on her what I was asking and why, but she only wanted to brag on her Sailors and her ship. She is way past being awed by the great leadership position she is in as a woman. She’s just doing her job. I think that says it all.

Folks, Joint Force 2020 belongs to you; you are our future. My fellow warriors, don’t just focus on that future, lead us to that future!

God bless you, and thank you very, very much for inviting me to be with you here today.