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Utah National Guard launches Sisters-In-Arms, forum for issues most relevant to servicewomen

Keynote speaker Sharlene Wells Hawkes, Utah businesswoman and DACOWITS member, addresses attendees during the Sisters-In-Arms program kickoff event April 1, 2015 at Utah National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Draper. The purpose of the initiative is to mentor, educate, train and empower service members to become future leaders. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Jennifer Eaton/RELEASED)

Keynote speaker Sharlene Wells Hawkes, Utah businesswoman and DACOWITS member, addresses attendees during the Sisters-In-Arms program kickoff event April 1, 2015 at Utah National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Draper. The purpose of the initiative is to mentor, educate, train and empower service members to become future leaders. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Jennifer Eaton/RELEASED)

Army Sgt. Mercedes Millward, Sisters-In-Arms advisory board member, thanks Sharlene Wells Hawkes for setting an example for female leaders by sharing her personal stories and message. Hawkes was the keynote speaker during the Utah Sisters-In-Arms program kickoff event April 1, 2015. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Jennifer Eaton/RELEASED)

Army Sgt. Mercedes Millward, Sisters-In-Arms advisory board member, thanks Sharlene Wells Hawkes for setting an example for female leaders by sharing her personal stories and message. Hawkes was the keynote speaker during the Utah Sisters-In-Arms program kickoff event April 1, 2015. (Air National Guard photo by Capt. Jennifer Eaton/RELEASED)

SALT LAKE CITY -- More than 100 men and women, including senior Air Force and Army National Guard leaders, attended the official kickoff of the recently launched Utah Sisters-in-Arms program held April 1 at the Utah National Guard Headquarters in Draper.

SIA branches have been established at installations nationwide to foster an environment where female military members feel comfortable discussing the issues most relevant to them in an informal setting. The forum is designed to facilitate mentorship and guidance opportunities from other women in uniform, as well as prominent female civic leaders.                                                                                                      

Sharlene Wells Hawkes, one of ESPN's first female sportscasters, 1985 Miss America winner, author, and long-time Utah businesswoman served as the keynote speaker. Hawkes' credentials also include her appointment as one of the newest members of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). The DACOWITS committee is composed of civilian women and men selected by the Secretary of Defense to provide recommendations on matters pertaining to the recruitment, retention, and integration of professional women in the armed forces.                                                                                                                                 

While addressing the crowd, Hawkes focused on the importance of identifying and tackling issues women face in the workplace and as they strive for balance in their personal and professional lives. She emphatically reinforced the notion that initiatives like SIA are meant to be inclusive, not divisive, noting that work-life balance is also important to men.                                                            

"It's not about separation, it's about strengthening and fortifying talent for the sake of national defense," Hawkes said. "Fostering a climate of dignity and respect is the best way to accomplish that goal."                                                                                                                                                     

Army Master Sgt. Tammy Sower, event organizer and founder of the local SIA chapter, said its mission is to "mentor, educate, train and empower service members to become future leaders."  She also noted that the group's advisory board is always interested in recruiting new members, including male counterparts.                                                                                                                                  

"Every voice is relevant and valued in this dialogue," said Sower. "This organization is about inclusion and building trust."                                                                                           

Army Sgt. Mercedes Millward, administrative specialist for the Utah National Guard, said she had hoped for the creation of an organization like SIA ever since joining the military.                          

"I'm excited to serve on the committee because we need to foster better relationships and enhance opportunities," she said. "Listening to the presentation today and knowing that our senior leaders value efforts to address issues and find effective ways forward is inspiring."              

For more information on the SIA program, including how to get involved, call 801-432-4583.