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Ramona D. Cook, a retired U.S. Marine Corps sergeant major, addresses guests at the Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 39’s Women’s Symposium at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Oct. 11. The symposium allowed female and male Marines alike to participate in conversations, learn new leadership skills and hear from role models and mentors. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Levi J. Guerra)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Levi Guerra

Starting Conversations for MAG-39

8 Nov 2018 | Lance Cpl. Levi Guerra 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

The room was packed, so packed that the spectators had to stand, their focus honed in on the four panelists in the front of the room.

These Marines gathered for the Hunger for Strength Women’s Symposium, an annual event at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, hosted by Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 39’s Women’s Leadership and Education Committee, Oct. 11. This event gathers together both male and female Marines to offer resources, provide mentors and answer tough questions.

“We had to work very hard to even get our culture to understand that this is important,” said Lt. Cmdr. Adrienne T. Benton, the chaplain for MAG-39 and one of the hosts of the symposium. “That hosting events like these don’t just benefit women but all Marines.”

The event opened with a welcome, including a speech by Ramona D. Cook, a retired sergeant major, who spoke about the importance of women building each other up in the Marine Corps. It also featured a series of workshops that varied from deployment readiness to resiliency and leadership.

“Events like this give Marines the opportunity to show we are the same,” said Cpl. Nicole Autio, an aviation mechanic with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 775. “It gives both genders a chance to talk about topics that Marines can lean on each other for.”

During the event, there were two panels; one geared toward enlisted members and another toward officers. Marines were given the opportunity to ask questions to a panel that included sergeants, sergeants major, captains and lieutenant colonels.

Questions varied from what a deployment is like to other taboo topics such as balancing a pregnancy with operational commitments. But at the Women’s Symposium, no topic was taboo.

“This is one of the main reasons why I did this, to reach out to the young lance corporals, to tell them my story so they know they’re not alone,” said Sgt. Monique Romo, a material readiness manager with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron (HMLAT) 303 and panelist speaker. “It’s so rewarding to be able to reach out and to be that influence.”

Exceptional Marines who exemplified positive leadership traits and strove for equality in the workplace were nominated by their squadrons to receive awards.

Benton was happy to announce that the Hunger for Strength Women’s Symposium will continue to be an annual event at Camp Pendleton. The conversations at the symposium gave Marines the opportunity to receive answers to questions they might not otherwise feel comfortable asking.

“We wanted to start this so we could open the door for women to understand they are respected and valued,” Benton said. “To give them a place where they could be comfortable and confident to talk with their male counterparts on how to achieve unit cohesion.”


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