JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas –
While countless groundbreaking women paved the way, an all-female leadership team is blazing new trails in modern military medicine.
As a first for military medicine here, there’s a female commanding general and deputy/vice commander at the helm of the 59th Medical Wing and Brooke Army Medical Center, as well as an all-female command team at the San Antonio Market.
“I hope seeing women in senior leadership positions, whether in the civilian or military world, demonstrates you can meet your professional and personal goals,” said Brig. Gen. Jeannine Ryder, San Antonio Market director, chief nurse of the Air Force, and the first female commander of two Air Force wings. “Our military institution continues to prove that if you obtain the education, experiences and expertise, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or background, there is opportunity to lead at the highest level.”
This message is particularly timely as the nation commemorates Women’s Equality Day. Each year, Aug. 26 marks the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote.
“It’s hard to imagine that at the start of our nation, only 6% of citizens had the right to vote in some states,” noted Brig. Gen. Deydre Teyhen, market deputy director, chief of the Army Medical Specialist Corps, BAMC commander, and the first Army physical therapist promoted to brigadier general. “As a nation, we’ve decreased many barriers to improve voting rights.”
The military, in particular, has excelled in ensuring all service members have their Constitutional right to vote, whether stateside or overseas, through initiatives such as the Federal Voting Assistance Program and unit voting assistance officers. “It’s amazing what our military has done to ensure that all who defend our nation are able to have their voices heard and counted,” she said.
The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment but also marks the culmination of a massive civil rights movement by women that started in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Since then, countless women have broken glass ceilings and barriers to equality. Some are listed in history books, while others are unnamed but not forgotten.
Chief Master Sgt. Kristy Earls, the 59 MDW’s command chief master sergeant and, at her last duty station, the 71st Flying Training Wing’s first female command chief, said her personal hero is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court from 1993 until her death in 2020.
“To me, she was a champion of justice, and a legal, cultural and feminist icon,” she said. “Many of her quotes resonate with me, such as ‘Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.’”
Teyhen said she has the deepest admiration for her military mentor, retired Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the Army’s first nurse and female surgeon general and the first Army nurse to attain the rank of lieutenant general.
“She envisioned military medicine differently,” she said. “Rather than a healthcare system, she strived for a system for health. She broke down so many barriers and is a legendary leader.”
Ryder said she has been inspired by many over the course of her 30-year career but credits the strong foundation her parents provided early on for her success.
“They ensured we understood the importance of hard work, an education and a commitment to a higher calling than ourselves,” she said.
Ryder’s parents were both educators, with her mother becoming a stay-at-home parent while she raised her three daughters. “She told me and my two sisters that we could be anything we wanted, there were no barriers due to gender, so I never thought there were any,” Ryder said.
A strong foundation is essential when confronting challenges, both personally and professionally, Ryder said. “I was provided numerous opportunities, and I am grateful for each one. If gender was an issue, or I thought it was, I ensured no one could question my work ethic, clinical or job knowledge, or dedication.”
People want to be considered for positions because they earned them based on their expertise and experience, not because they need to “put a woman in the room,” Earls said.
“There were times when I felt I was assigned roles or tasks that were seen as more ‘appropriate’ based on my gender as opposed to my skill or experience,” she said. “I’ve learned to give feedback and to control what I can control. I hold people accountable for their comments and follow that feedback up by ensuring I’m leading by example, continuing my development, and consistently growing my expertise and competence.”
Leaders have a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the people around them, Teyhen noted.
“As leaders, we need to recognize great talent regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or disability,” she said. “Recognize talent and then coach, teach and mentor them to work at the top of their credentials and capability, and ensure you recognize those who excel.”
While the nation has made progress on the equality front, as with many societal issues, there’s more work to be done.
According to U.S. Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators data, women in the United States earned 30 percent less than men, with the pay gap increasing with age. And, although the gender pay gap has narrowed since the signing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women still earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ensuring an environment of equality requires consistent education and enforcement, noted Earls. “We need to be reminded of where we’ve been so that we move forward, and not back.”
The overarching goal is to ensure everyone's voice is valued and truly heard, Ryder added. “We need to cultivate an environment of respect and dignity, even if one shares a difference in perspective. We need to listen more for understanding and open ourselves to different viewpoints and experiences to build our foundation of advocacy. We must provide a voice when someone feels they cannot speak for themselves. No one should feel isolated from a community or denied an opportunity.”
Teyhen shared that “in the military, there’s an old saying, ‘Bloom where you’re planted.’ Equality is when we all have the appropriate amount of access to sun, soil and water; allowing all of us the same opportunity to bloom. In an organization that values equity and inclusion, we all will have the right amount of sun, soil and water; then it’s up to each of us to bloom where we’re planted.”
As a nation and as a military, diversity and inclusion are our strengths, Ryder said. “I encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Be your true, authentic self. Today, as we celebrate how far we’ve come, let’s continue to foster an environment where everyone has equal rights and opportunities.”