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ARC Athena Continues Work on Women's and Family-Centric Issues

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeffrey Grossi

More than 400 individuals gathered to foster advancements and collaborations on women’s and family-centric issues within the Air Reserve Component at the second annual ARC Athena event at the end of April. About 270 people attended the event in person at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, while the rest joined virtually.

Amidst the backdrop of one of the Air Force’s coastal installations, ARC Athena brought together military personnel from all levels, general officers, academics and government officials. Together they explored solutions sewn from grassroots levels as they addressed unique challenges faced by today’s Citizen Airmen.

The event featured an array of presentations, panel discussions and keynote speakers showcasing the latest policy changes and continued challenges in nine lines of effort, including childcare, maternal fitness, female specialized healthcare and issues, lactation rooms and in-vitro fertilization, countering sexual assault and harassment, aircraft limitations and sanitation, and the Exceptional Family Member Program.

“We’ve had huge advancements, especially in Line of Effort One, which is childcare, and LOE Nine, the Exceptional Family Member Program, as far as getting initiatives pushed out to our very senior leaders and actually coordinating and doing congressional liaisons,” said Lt. Col. Kimberly Collier, Air National Guard co-chair for ARC Athena and director of readiness for the Washington ANG Civil Engineering staff augmentation team.

ARC Athena provided various forums for discussing critical issues facing the Air Reserve Component. The Parthenon Panel, a group of representatives from each Air Force Athena initiative – Torch, Sword, Dagger, Reach and ARC – spoke on the genesis of their programs and the continuing success of each, underscoring that each was born by imposing challenges and fortified by that struggle.

One of the key themes that emerged from ARC Athena was the importance of collaboration in driving innovation.
Maj. Gen. Regina Sabric, the commander of Air Force Reserve Command’s 10th Air Force, said that ARC Athena, though on a much larger scale, reminded her of her time at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, as one of only four female fighter pilots who banded together to navigate caring for their families while serving in a military capacity.

“We started our own fighter pilot association for stuff like this,” Sabric said. “No one ever really talked to us about how to care for a family and fly, how to handle female-specific issues, so we formed our own little group. Our grassroots efforts back then were no different than this bigger grassroots effort right now. We have got to make things better for those Airmen coming up behind us.”

Chief Master Sgt. Rebecca Schatzman, AFRC co-chair for ARC Athena and the senior enlisted leader for the 911th Operations Group, Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, highlighted the value of persistence and determination in advocating for change.

“Less than two years ago, ARC Athena was a conversation in a classroom filled with career enlisted aviators,” she said. “Today, ARC Athena is a conversation on Capitol Hill, and it will continue to break barriers in the AFRC and ANG.”

As the event drew to a close, Schatzman played a clip of Lt. Gen. John P. Healy, chief of the Air Force Reserve and AFRC commander, testifying before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, just hours earlier on April 30.

“Our most important weapon system is and always has been our Airmen,” Healy said. “We are focused on ensuring that Airmen and their families receive the support they need. Two of our most significant lines of effort focus on providing accessible and affordable childcare for our members as well as making healthcare more accessible for family members with special needs through the Exceptional Family Member Program.”

“This is what happens when you keep talking and keep the conversation going,” Schatzman said. “This is what happens when you don’t take a ‘no’ from someone who is not in a position to give you a ‘yes.’ You make real change.”

As the defense community looks toward the future, the five Air Force Athenas will continue to play a crucial role in shaping the culture and capabilities of tomorrow. By fostering collaboration and innovation, the Air Reserve Component remains ready to defend the nation in an ever-changing world.

(Grossi is assigned to the 911th Airlift Wing public affairs office.)