Women's History Month: An Officer's perspective

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Lt. Col. Rosalie Duarte is the 31st Force Support Squadron commander and 17-year U.S. Air Force veteran from Virginia Beach, Va. As commander, Duarte leads the 31st Fighter Wing's largest and most diverse squadron, comprised of more than 600 military and civilian personnel whose primary mission is to enhance combat capabilities, readiness and quality of life for a community of nearly 10,000 military members, Department of Defense civilians, local national employees and dependents. 

How is it different for you being a woman in a leadership role?

The differences for me are [subtle]. The first time I took command, it was a large assumption of command--almost 15 squadron commanders stood up that day, I didn't realize it at the time, but my husband pointed out that I was the only woman and minority to take command. It's a very small difference. You're always going to look to your left and right in a command position and you're probably going to see fewer women--at least for a little while--but I think we are starting to see the beginnings of that change. As a woman it's important to be appreciated for the things I bring to the table, so sometimes I have to speak a little more directly and a lot less apologetically. I'm not always sure, but if I can catch myself, I won't say I'm sorry to bring up a point because my male counterparts are not. We shouldn't be sorry for standing up. Some left field ideas are the ones that bring the bigger picture to the table.

What do you think about the women who have paved the way for us today?

I don't think the [women who have paved the way for us] did it consciously. I don't think they set out to say, "I'm going to be the first four star." I think their level of expertise, competence, communication with people and the way they conducted themselves are forces that propelled them. Recognizing these abilities makes me proud. It's harder to be recognized at that level because for every four star female, there are 10 males. The 10 males were not necessarily trying to keep her down, but I would venture to say their paths were a little more grooved than the one who had to set her own path. I admire them and I am proud of them. I think they established a whole new level of possibility for the women who came after them.

Do you have any advice for women hoping to join the military?

My advice for women hoping to join the military is to get some clarity on why they want to join, what they want to accomplish and who it is they want to serve. I would tell women to write stuff down and see what resonates with them, then consider who their decision affects. Serving in the military is a commitment, which includes the possibility of losing your life. It's not something you should go into blindly. When they sign their name, I want them to know what they are doing. Beyond that, I would urge them to be the best they can absolutely be. It sounds trite, but it's education, learning about other people, conducting yourself professionally and appropriately, leading in your workplace and being highly competent in your technical skill that sets you apart.

Do you consider yourself a mentor or role model for young women in the Air Force?

I hope so. In everything I do on- and off-duty, I always consider if my nieces or a younger person is watching, if it's something I would like them to emulate. As I go through my decision making, I try to make sure my decisions positively affect as many people as possible. I lead people the way I want to be led. I want them to be able to make mistakes, to improve on those mistakes, seek education and have initiative.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in the military?

I think as woman in the military I do sacrifice a bit more. I think there is a bit more sacrifice as far as the dynamics with our spouses. We need to be sensitive to it. I am thankful and grateful for what I'm able to do and when your spouse is on board with that too you have to be more thankful and grateful. Being a woman in the military makes me obviously proud to serve in the sense of service but also gives me an understanding of how important it is to be inclusive regardless of your stature.

Do you have a personal motto?

My husband and I talk about this philosophy called "The Power of We" and "we" doesn't just stand for teams. It stands for what else, who else and why else. When we make decisions, its affects other people, so if we do that in a vacuum, then we've done everyone a disservice. We need to calibrate, listen and put the ideas of many people to work. No one person can make the best decision.