Defense committee members focus on retention, health care issues during visit

by Mike Joseph
JBSA-Lackland Public Affairs

4/20/2012 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services made Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland its first stop of 2012 as it begins to gather information for recommendations designed to help the secretary of defense improve policies, procedures and climate within the Department of Defense.

Committee members spent two days, April 10-11, on JBSA-Lackland, one of seven military installations on the DACOWITS schedule. The committee toured the base, talked to service members about the joint base environment and held five focus group discussions during its visit.

"We had a recommendation from the Air Force about places to visit, and the idea was there was a lot to see here," said Holly Hemphill, DACOWITS chair. "My first impression was the sheer amount of activity that goes on (at Lackland).

"This was an opportunity for us to see and learn a lot," she said. "I know we only got a flavor for the many things going on, but it was very helpful to us."

DACOWITS was established in 1951 by then Secretary of Defense George Marshall. Its mission is to provide the secretary of defense with advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to women in the military.

The committee consists of volunteers appointed by the defense secretary for three-year terms.

"We're charged with making recommendations to the secretary of defense, and in order to do that, we meet with service members and discuss issues of the day and their concerns," Hemphill said. "We get a chance to see where they live, work and train, so that helps us very much."

According to the DACOWITS executive summary, the committee works on selected topics. Primary and secondary information is gathered from briefings with military representatives and subject matter experts; data collected from surveys and during installations visits with focus groups; and literature reviews, research and resources.

Five different focus groups met with the committee on retention and health care issues for deployed women. Members had discussions with female company grade officers, female senior officers and male company grade officers about retention. Female junior and senior enlisted Airmen shared their observations on health care deployment issues.

The DACOWITS team was immersed in the joint base environment during the visit. Following a briefing by Brig. Gen. Theresa C. Carter, 502nd Air Base Wing commander, committee members toured the Basic Expeditionary Airman Skills Training course, had lunch with senior enlisted leaders from the 37th Training Group, visited the 321st Training Squadron dormitory, stopped by the Airman Training Complex construction site, and toured the 59th Medical Wing's Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility.

"I think the DACOWITS team walked away with an understanding that JBSA-Lackland is like no other Air Force base," said Lt. Col. Kara Neuse, 802nd Mission Support Group deputy commander, who accompanied the committee throughout its visit.

"It was a great opportunity for the DACOWITS team to meet the amazing service members who make all these various missions on JBSA-Lackland happen," said Neuse. "That's where the tour really folded into place. They talked to Airmen outside of the focus groups, and saw we are very much a joint base."