Remarks by Ambassador John L. Estrada at Opening Ceremony WIMCON 2016

Ambassador John L. Estrada speaking to women at WIMCON at the Hyatt Regency Port of Spain

2016 Women in Military & Security Conference, Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain

Good Day!

It is a pleasure, and an honor, a deep honor, to stand here today and help kick off what I believe to be one of the most important conferences in the Western Hemisphere that the United States will participate in with our partners.

As a man who wore the uniform of the United States Marine Corps for 34 years, I instinctively feel the cohesion and respect that exist in this room between all of us who have worn and currently wear, the military uniform of our respective countries, regardless of our background or our gender.

Let me say that again, or our gender…

This week offers a tremendous opportunity to engage in frank and productive discussions on a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, and one that I hope each and every one of you share my passion to do our small part.

By sharing our experiences, making recommendations, or simply listening to one another, all of us can learn something that may contribute to changes in our individual country’s laws or policies, and impact future generations of women in your Armed Forces.

A few years ago, I was selected to participate in a study conducted by the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.   In true military fashion, we reduce that to an acronym, in this case:  DACOWITS.

DACOWITS was established in 1951 by then-Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall.  The Committee is composed of civilian women and men who are appointed by the Secretary of Defense to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies affecting women in our Armed Forces.  The recommendations of DACOWITS have historically been instrumental in effecting changes to the laws and policies pertaining to women in our services.

Allow me to share my personal experience in the evolution of the U.S. Military, not only as a Marine, but as a member of DACOWITS.

  • Getting pulse of all military members – male, female, officers, enlisted, older, younger—on their perspective on opening all jobs
  • Women in combat

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to conclude with this:  In my humble opinion, this conference should not dwell on the past, but rather use our individual history to shape our solutions and tackle the challenges that are still preventing our governments from affording women in our militaries the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

I am incredibly proud of the efforts of our administration, led by President Barrack Obama, to fully integrate our Armed Forces.

We have opened all combat roles up to women…

President Obama nominated the first woman, Air Force General Lori Robinson, to be the commander of U.S. Northern Command…

Three female soldiers have passed the rigorous Army Ranger School, the Army’s premier combat leadership course…

During a recent commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado—which happened to be the 40th Anniversary of female cadets arriving at the Academy–President Obama said:  “America’s military is stronger because all combat positions are open to women.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Do we have full gender equality in the U.S. Military?  Of course not.  But we are trying.  And we have learned a great many lessons along the way.

This conference is an opportunity for us to share some of those lessons, but also to hear your perspectives and experiences, as each military is shaped by its nation’s culture, and that’s how it should be.

And just as we learn from each other in this conference, military units can learn from including women—not just in gender traditional roles, but also as soldiers and leaders…

Women bring different skill sets and perspectives…

They make our teams more diverse, and therefore more strong…

They teach us men things that we will never learn by just talking to ourselves…

Through their service in the Military, women have demonstrated that change—even change that was unimaginable a few years earlier—is not just possible, but the right thing to do…

Some of the women leaders here today have contributed greatly to their Armed Services and the security of their nations…

I am particularly proud by how many women leaders are wearing U.S. service uniforms…

It reminds me that change can happen…

And once it happens, you can’t imagine going back…

Not too long ago, the U.S. Military was segregated.  People felt that African Americans could not fight alongside White Americans…

How reasonable does that sound today?

We all should have an equal opportunity to serve our nations, in whatever capacity we are qualified for, no matter what our race, color, ethnic background, religion, gender, etc…

Because, as one of my great heros, Muhammad Ali, who just passed away, said:

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

And if you are willing to serve—and capable—you should be given the opportunity…

It’s a human right, but it also makes us stronger, individually, as a fighting force, and as a nation.

I personally know all too well that, in a combat zone, the blood of a female Marine is the same color as the blood of a male Marine.

I encourage all of you in this room today to make lasting friendships with the other participants…

And I challenge you to do what many are not willing to do…

Make a difference…

Let’s do it together…

Let’s start today…

Thank you for your service, and thanks for your attention this morning.