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Fort Bliss Colonel tells EPCC women to be themselves

Fort Bliss
Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 7:49pm

Col. Karen H. Carlisle, Staff Judge Advocate, 1st Armored Division, encouraged women to be themselves during her keynote speech at the El Paso Community College’s 6th Annual Women’s Diamond Awards March 5.

Even in the U.S. Army, which is 13.6 percent female and promotes uniformity, women can succeed while embracing traditional feminine attributes, Carlisle said.

“To succeed, we belong to the Army team,” said Carlisle of women in the U.S. Army. “We wear the uniform. We adopt the organizational culture, but we don’t have to be a guy to achieve that success, and we don’t have to be someone whom we’re not. We can lead, inspire and succeed by being ourselves.”

The event, which honored 40 women employees and faculty members who have demonstrated leadership skills in the area of their employment, also included a panel discussion that featured women who work with the military community. The event took place at the college’s Administrative Services Center. 

Panel members included Nancy Thomas-Mainor, chief of Army Community Service on Fort Bliss, Verenice Castillo, head of the Military Spouse Advocacy Network, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., and Judge Angie Juarez Barill, of the 346th District Court in El Paso and the El Paso Veterans Court.

Cathie J. Garner, a program coordinator and certified facilitator for the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Morale on Fort Bliss, moderated the discussion.

More than 120 people attended the awards luncheon at which Carlisle spoke, and they gave her a standing ovation at the end of her speech.

Carlisle, the highest ranking female Soldier on Fort Bliss, illustrated her point about women and success by noting that U.S. Army officials last year appointed Lt. Gen. Flora D. Darpino as Judge Advocate General, which is the position in charge of the U.S. Army’s corps of lawyers.

Darpino, a wife and mother, did not shy away from bringing her homemade baked goods into the office for fear it might damage her career, Carlisle said.

Carlisle continued to prove her point, pulling items out of a black backpack to illustrate her examples.

Approximately 25 percent of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps — the corps of lawyers — is made up of women, and Carlisle recalled when she went to say goodbye to a young captain deploying for the first time and heard Soldiers making fun of a pink pillow she had tied to her rucksack.

“I said, ‘Don’t you worry about your pink pillow. Let me tell you a story about my pink pillow,’” Carlisle said.

Carlisle said her now 19-year-old daughter sent her a pink pillow pet (a pillow that looks like a small animal when folded in half) during a deployment, and she slept with it every night. When it came time to leave, she had trouble stuffing it into her rucksack, and Soldiers began ribbing her.

The kidding stopped, however, when the group of Soldiers became stuck in the Kuwaiti desert overnight with no place to sleep but picnic benches.

“Who had the pink pillow pet?” Carlisle said, holding it up for the audience. “That’s right, I did. And I will tell you that I had at least four offers to buy this pink pillow pet.”

Carlisle, pulling a Disney medal from the backpack, also told the audience about her participation in the Disney Princess Half Marathons with her daughter and mother.

She ran the first-ever Disney Princess Half Marathon in 2008, with her daughter, and her mother began joining them the next year, Carlisle said.

Due to the fact that she has run every Disney Princess Half Marathon, Disney has deemed her a “Perfect Princess,” Carlisle said, and it is a status she diligently maintains.

“I even took leave from Afghanistan (to run a princess half marathon) because I am very competitive and I did not want to lose my Perfect Princess status,” Carlisle said. “If you miss a year, it’s out.”
In addition, Carlisle recounted her 10th jump from an airplane, which went fine until heated air from the airstrip created a lift that would not let her land. The equipment, she said, was created for 250-pound men wearing equipment, and not only did she weigh much less than that, she was not carrying any equipment.

She floated over the landing strip, which was not where she was supposed to land, until she was able to slowly deflate her parachute and reach the ground. When she performed a landing roll, her parachute inflated again and began dragging her down the strip.

Thankfully, a safety monitor on the ground radioed the recovery plane and kept the pilot from landing, and eventually she was able to stop and take off her parachute, Carlisle said.
In the meantime, more than 100 people, including her boss, had seen her bouncing down the landing strip, Carlisle said.

The next day she suited up, held her head high and jumped again, Carlisle said.
Not only can women have their pink pillows and lead, but they can also be a Perfect Princes and inspire others and have a bad jump from an airplane and dust themselves off and do it again, Carlisle said.

“And you do it while being yourself,” Carlisle said. “You don’t have to be like everybody else.” 

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