By Amy Perry, Fort Lee Public Affairs
FORT LEE, Va. – A delegation of women from nine African countries toured Fort Lee Monday and took part in a roundtable discussion with senior-ranking leaders from the installation at the U.S. Army Women’s Museum.
The 11 women – senior NCOs and officers from their military’s signal branches – received a command brief from Col. Tamatha A. Patterson, commander, 23rd Quartermaster Brigade, toured the museum and participated in a roundtable question and answer session later in the day.
The visit was part of the U.S. African Command Women’s Communication Forum, said Liz Jordan, the Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems and Outreach Coalition Division program manager. The delegation also visited the Pentagon and other DOD facilities and organizations within the capital region. The forums support the command’s mission to build the military capacity of partner nations in Africa while also supporting the president’s National Action Plan on Women’s Peace and Security.
“The objective of this trip is to exchange signal doctrine, techniques and philosophies with our African partners and to engage in discussions on the unique situations faced by women serving in the military,” said Jordan.
In its’ second year, the forum returned to the Army Women’s Museum after a successful trip during the previous forum.
“We first came to the museum last year, and we were impressed not only with the staff and exhibits but also the willingness of the command to support our visit with such enthusiasm,” Jordan said. “Obviously, the museum displays how far women in the U.S. Army have come in a relatively short time, but it also allows our African partners the chance to relate to similar struggles. Women’s peace and security is a global concern, and by discussing our similarities and differences, we are better able to find solutions and strengthen growing relationships.”
Lt. Catherine Nalwoga, Uganda Defense Forces, said she enjoyed the visit to the Army Women’s Museum because it taught her about the role women have played in the U.S. Army.
“I learned that we need to leave something to remember our service in the Army,” said Nalwoga, who has served for 11 years. “Touring the women’s museum showed me that former military members left items behind (as reminders of their service). We need to leave something behind so when we retire, we can be remembered.”
During the roundtable discussion, some of the questions posed to the African women included why they joined their respective military branches, whether they are allowed to marry other military members, and if they received equal pay and treatment when it came to job availability. While many reported they could have the same jobs as males, the opportunities weren’t always equal as most of the additional educational chances went first to males and females were only considered when it was a requirement to train them.
In Africa, each country’s military varies on whether women are allowed to serve and what jobs are available. That mimics the early days of the United States, where women started in supporting roles, then became active participants, and finally, decision makers, said Dr. Selam Alemayo an African Cultural Studies professor working for the U.S. Air Force.
“In Africa, the level women can achieve varies because, in some branches there are (female) generals, in others, the highest ranking women is a major,” she said. “It’s a progress. When you look at the studies, women do have a chance to make a difference at their level. One of the ways we can help break that barrier – and build our relationship with African countries – is when we hold these types of events, ask for women. We can help them make progress and eventually, you’ll see those countries sending women to optional events.”
The forum will continue through Friday.