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Honoring history, excellence: Diversity key in shaping America

Maj. Anne McClain, NASA astronaut, and Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army Installations, Energy and Environment, receive eagle statuettes from Col. Allan M. Pepin, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chief of staff, and Russell B. Hall, USAACE deputy to the commanding general, during a ceremony at The Landing’s ballroom March 10. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Maj. Anne McClain, NASA astronaut, and Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army Installations, Energy and Environment, receive eagle statuettes from Col. Allan M. Pepin, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chief of staff, and Russell B. Hall, USAACE deputy to the commanding general, during a ceremony at The Landing’s ballroom March 10. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: March 21, 2016

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 21, 2016) -- The success of the nation was no single group’s effort, but the effort of many men and women of varied backgrounds.

Fort Rucker celebrated that diversity with its recognition of Women’s History Month during a luncheon at The Landing’s ballroom March 10.

“Women’s History Month is a time to remember those who fought to grow our nation under the simple creed that each of us is created equal,” said Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander. “It is a notion that makes America unlike any place on Earth. A country where no matter where you come from or what you look like, you can go as far as your talents will take you.

“Women in government and public service have shaped America’s history and its future through their service and leadership,” she continued. “They have championed basic human rights to ensuring access and equal opportunity for all Americans, and they have led the way in establishing a stronger and more democratic country.”

Maj. Anne McClain, NASA astronaut, and Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army Installations, Energy and Environment, were both invited to speak during the event and share their experiences as women in fields mostly dominated by men.

For both McClain and Hammack, they said although they both chose career paths in male-dominated fields, neither felt that gender was a factor that held them back in any way.

“(Throughout my career), of all the things that I thought about on a daily basis, gender was never one of them,” said McClain. “You might as well have asked me what it was like to have blue eyes throughout my military career. I was a Soldier, a scout pilot, an officer and leader, and that’s how I identified myself. Those were the things that were important to me, and gender never played a role in the dreams that I set out to achieve.”

Hammack echoed that sentiment.

“I don’t feel that I’ve experienced discrimination in my career, either,” said the assistant secretary. “I think something to remember is that sometimes it is our differences that make us stronger. Women have been working to make the world a better place since the dawn of time. Whether you know it or not, the women who are present here today are making a difference. Gathering in support of each other is a powerful thing.”

Hammack spoke of a study conducted by Harvard University that was meant to study the intelligence level of teams working together. During the study, there was one team that was homogenous – made up of people of the same age, experience, ethnicity and sex – while the other team was varied in its makeup.

“In every case, the homogenous team made worse decisions than the diverse team,” said Hammack. “Diversity is the strength. Coming from different backgrounds, different life experiences – that’s actually what makes America strong.

“It doesn’t really matter where you came from, what your background is or where you went to school,” she continued. “What matters is your passion for your profession, and that doesn’t know sex and that doesn’t know gender and that doesn’t know race.”

Although neither McClain nor Hammack said they encountered discrimination throughout their careers, they didn’t discount that discrimination exists, because they both owe their careers to women who pioneered the way for them.

“What I realize now is that I was fortunate to come in at the time that I did and come into the service that I did,” said McClain. “I chose a career path in the military (where) I was afforded every opportunity that I earned. I didn’t witness inequality, I never encountered discrimination, personally, though I know some people did, and no doors were closed from me.

“But now that I’m on the outside looking back, I have a deeper sense of appreciation that I may be the first generation that has experienced this equality,” she continued. “I realized that the women (who) came to break down these barriers had the same passions that I did, but they had to spend their time breaking down barriers – I did not. They opened the doors that I got to walk through, that I earned the right to walk through.”

Although women have come far in the fight for equality, McClain said there are still times when women are perceived less than their male counterparts.

McClain spoke on the topic of women in combat and shared a story of her own experience in what she described as “the biggest firefight I’d ever been a part of,” during her time in Iraq.

“It was the only night that I actually though I wasn’t going to be coming back from,” she said. “We did 7 ½ hours of flying that night and didn’t come back with any rounds left on our helicopters or our M-4 magazines, and we had a few lodged in our helicopters.

“It was one of those things that you don’t sleep for a few nights after,” she continued. “When I got home, I was sitting on an airplane while I was still in my uniform, and the gal next to me said to me, ‘I’m so glad they don’t let you women in combat yet.’”

It’s that type of thinking that still hinders progress in the fight for equality, but it’s one that both McClain and Hammack hope will soon change. Hammack said if something is worth having, then it’s worth fighting for.

“If you have a passion for something, people will look beyond your age, your gender, your race, and they will see a person who has that passion who can accomplish things, and that’s who they want on their team,” she said. “Don’t live life with regrets. Pursue your passions because you never know where they’re going to take you. Be open to opportunities that come your way, be flexible and take advantage of them.”

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