The women of BYU’s Air Force ROTC detachment learned the importance of having their own belief system in a work world where BYU standards are not the norm, in the Women in the Armed Forces class this Thursday.
ROTC graduate Shawnna Conner described her experiences in the “real world” after graduating in 2002 as a “big trial.” She said it shocked her that so many people did not hold the same core values as she did, and doing what was right when nobody was looking became a theme in her career.
“Not everybody is LDS,” she said. “Not everybody has our belief system, even in the military.”
Conner told the women that her success in the military depended on how well she integrated the Air Force values of integrity first, service before self and excellence into all she did. She retired from the Air Force in January, after 10 years of service.
“No matter what anyone says, no matter if there is a difference in mentality, always have those core values,” Conner said. “I tell you that because I’ve learned these things in the last 10 years having trials and tribulations in the military.”
Her message to the women was spiritually centered. It was to get back to the basics of the gospel, always be prepared, trust in the Lord’s timing and embrace adversity.
“As women, you are going to see trials,” Conner said. “Don’t ever let people call you crazy, because you are not crazy. I know you are all cadets, but we are daughters of God first, and I think that’s so important.”
To emphasize her point, she told the women to consider themselves “women in the gospel,” not just women in the armed forces.
Cadet Allison Carlon, one of the creators of Women in the Armed Forces class, said that each year many female members begin the ROTC program, but most do not graduate in it. For example, eight new women entered in her first year, and now, three years later, she is the only one who stayed. She expressed concern for these decreasing numbers but has hope for retention in the future.
“This year there are 13 new girls,” Carlon said. “It is easy to lose your place in a male-dominated field, so this allows us to actually act like girls after being surrounded by men all the time.”
Women in the Armed Forces is brand new this semester, and about 10 of the 19 women in the ROTC attend each week. Many of them said they come to be able to connect with the other women in the program as well as be strengthened in their decision to join the ROTC.
One first-year cadet, Julia Graham, said that although she is not sure if she will commit fully to the ROTC, these classes help her see what she will be able to do. “It is nice to come and see other girls who are brand new and others who have done it all before,” Graham said. “It also helps us vent if we need to.”
Classes are held every Thursday at 1 p.m. in the ROTC building. This Thursday, Oct. 25, a senior cadet from the University of Utah will speak about what she has learned about balancing leadership positions in the Air Force.