ATLANTIC OCEAN (NNS) -- In 1980, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed that the first celebration of Women's History across the nation would be during the week of March 2-8.
Gerda Lerner, who chaired the Women's History Institute at that time, said that women's history is women's right and that it is an essential, indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage and long range vision. Due to the movement and beliefs of Lerner and women like her, in 1987, Congress passed a proclamation establishing the entire month of March as Women's History Month.
Today, we are honoring trailblazing women who have paved the way for future generations. We asked female Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship, USS Bataan (LHD 5) to share who are the women that inspire them and got great answers.
For us in the United States Navy, one of the most recent trailblazers is Adm. Michelle Howard, the 38th vice-chief of naval operations (VCNO), making her the second highest ranking officer in the Navy and the highest ranking African American women ever in any branch of the military. She holds a number of firsts: the first woman in the Navy to be promoted to a four-star admiral, the first woman and African American to serve as VCNO, and the first African American to command a ship, USS Rushmore.
Howard knows exactly how far women have come in the world of defense over the past half-century. At a Leadership Summit for Women in National Security Careers in Arlington, she cited her mother as her greatest role model and source of leadership inspiration, and said it was her mother that told her never to give up on her dreams.
Senior Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuel) Hawa P. Riley, shared that she was also inspired by her mother who raised her and her siblings in the West African nation of Liberia.
"We never went without food or clothes," said Riley. "Education for her was huge, so if we wanted food and clothes then we had to make good grades. No special meals or new clothes for a failing child."
Riley went on to say that as she got older, she was later inspired by the first female president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Prior to her election, the entire continent of Africa had never seen a female leader.
"She stood up for Liberians all over the world, but mainly in Liberia," said Riley. "Sirleaf still continues to do so at 75 years old today."
Mothers as inspirations seemed to be the theme on Bataan. When Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Jessica Lopez was asked who are the women that inspire her, she did not hesitate to name her mom, Maria Zoila Lopez.
"My mom is and always will be my hero and inspiration to do better and become who she would have liked for me to be," said Lopez. "My mom was the first one in my family that decided she wanted something better for us and her future family, so she started planning on how to leave El Salvador and make it to the Unites States, the 'place for dreams and opportunity.'"
Lopez shared that her mom, along with her two older sisters, embarked on a long and difficult journey that would bring them to Texas. Her sisters were only three and four years old at the time, but her mother made sure they were safe and had what they needed, at times sacrificing her own comfort for their own.
"My sisters are grateful that our mom gave us this chance," said Lopez. "Now I'm a first generation American from my family and I only want to make her proud and do everything that I can to make sure her trip wasn't in vain. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have this opportunity to serve our U.S. Navy. I love my job and I love what I do. My next goal is to put on khakis for her."
As we remember and honor the trailblazers who have shaped us all, let us never forget the advice that Adm. Howard gave during an interview with the National Journal in May 2015. She credits her success to diversity. She emphasized the value of both inherent diversity - gender, race and ethnicity - and the acquired diversity of learned experience.
"Good leadership wants to hear from a broad range of voices," said Howard. "We harvest good ideas. We empower them. We listen to them. And we are successful."
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