The best part of my job is meeting the extraordinary people who make up our National Guard family. Earlier this month, I was shoulder-to-shoulder with Master Sergeant Jenny Velazquez in the boom pod of a KC-135 as she expertly refueled an F-16 in the skies above our Nation's heartland. Master Sergeant Velazquez is a member of the 190th Air Refueling Wing and one of approximately 85,000 women in the National Guard. Every drill weekend, she drives five hours from her home to Forbes Field in Topeka, Kansas. She's been an inflight refueling specialist for four years and a member of the National Guard for fourteen. In her civilian life, she's a flight attendant, a wife, and the mother of a two-year-old. In the National Guard, she helps our Nation project our power around the world.
This International Women's Month, we salute all the women who serve in our Nation's armed forces. We honor those who defied the conventions of an earlier era to wear the battle flag of our country. We pay tribute to the women who have broken barriers to become Aviators, Army Rangers, and combatant command leaders. We remember the women who have given their lives for our Nation as we recognize the next generation of female warriors. I am proud to serve beside you.
We recognize there is more to do in promoting equality in the National Guard. Approximately 20 percent of the National Guard is female, but those proportions do not hold as women rise in rank. Talking to recruiters across the country, I hear the problem lies with mentorship. There is too little encouragement and too few support systems for women to build long-lasting careers in the National Guard. We need to challenge that. We cannot lose good Soldiers and Airmen because they can't see a path forward and aren't encouraged to grow; it hurts our morale and damages our readiness. It's up to all of us to create an environment where every Soldier and Airman can find professional success at the highest levels no matter their gender.
Thank you to all of the women of the National Guard who make us "Always Ready, Always There!"
Daniel R. Hokanson
General, U.S. Army
Chief, National Guard Bureau
Tony L. Whitehead
Senior Enlisted Advisor
National Guard Bureau