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Pease Airmen share thoughts on Women's Equality Day

(From left to right) Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson, 2nd Lt. Kirsten Arends, Maj. Shannon Van Splunder, Maj. Michelle Mastrobatista and Maj. Sherri Pierce, all of the 157th Air Refueling Wing, fill a variety of critical roles in planning for a sleek and exciting production of the Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show, the first to be hosted by Pease Air National Guard base in a decade. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Timm Huffman)

(From left) Staff Sgt. Victoria Nelson, 2nd Lt. Kirsten Arends, Maj. Shannon Van Splunder, Maj. Michelle Mastrobatista and Maj. Sherri Pierce with the 157th Air Refueling Wing, fill a variety of critical roles to ensure a sleek and exciting production of the Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show, the first to be hosted by Pease Air National Guard base in a decade. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Timm Huffman)

PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.H. --

On the 101st anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, three female leaders from Pease Air National Guard Base shared their thoughts on what it means to serve today.   

Today, approximately 20 percent of senior Air Force leadership is female, with women filling key roles across the force. Maj. Shannon Van Splunder, a 157th Air Refueling Wing Intelligence Officer, is setting an example of this locally, serving as the Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show director -- one of the first women in military air show history to hold this prestigious role.

She said that in her 15 years in the service, she has seen incredible progress towards equality in the Air Force.

“I am pumped to see the number of women in the military change and the progress they can make,” said Van Splunder, adding that she thinks women have the responsibility to pull up other women and everyone has the responsibility to encourage confidence and difficult conversations.

2nd Lt. Kirsten Arends, the Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show event planner with the 157th ARW, believes the Air Force is on the path to be more inclusive and representative of all minority groups.

“It is important to normalize the idea that women can do anything, because we have, we can, and we will continue to do so,” she said. “The more female leaders we lift up, the more we start to see a shift in what normal looks like.”

According to the Department of Defense, more than 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, more than 9,000 have earned Combat Action Badges.

Capt. Joy Dewitt, a pilot with the 157th ARW, said there are moments when she feels alone as the only woman in the room, but envisions a future with equal representation at all levels.

“I hope that we are able to reach a point where it’s normal to be a female leader,” she said. “I hope one day during my military career I can walk into a room and be just one of many women.”

Women’s Equality Day is also an opportunity to illuminate the obstacles women have overcome in past 100 years and those they continue to face today. Van Splunder said the military is making headway on many gender specific barriers like pregnancy.

“I think women need to talk about those topics to make them common conversations in open audiences,” she said. “That’s how gender specific questions and concerns become more comfortable and get the attention they need.”

Van Splunder, Dewitt and Arends all said they are proud to see female representatives in the military and are often reminded of the opportunity and the responsibility to create a society that gives men and women equal voice.

“We are helping to change the narrative of what the future should look like,” Arends said. “We are part of the bridge and the path to what true equality should be.”

 

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