ARC Athena’s Encore: Langley AFB hosts second annual event

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Jeffrey Grossi
  • 911th Airlift Wing

The United States Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard fused their efforts to host the second annual ARC Athena at Langley Air Force Base from April 29-30, 2024. Drawing over 400 individuals, with approximately 270 in-person attendees, ARC Athena served as a platform for fostering advancements and collaboration on women’s and family centric issues within the Air Reserve Component.

Amidst the backdrop of one of the Air Force's coastal installations, ARC Athena brought together military personnel from all levels, general officers, academics, and government officials. Together they Explored solutions sewn from grassroots levels as they addressed nine unique challenges faced by today's Citizen Airmen.

“This year was a big year. It was a big year in the Air Force really, said Lt. Col. Kimberly Collier, ANG co-chair for ARC Athena and director of readiness for the Washington ANG Civil Engineering staff augmentation team. “We have more Guard this year than we had last year. So we’re spreading the word and… coming together for how we can work together and improve."

With word of ARC Athena spreading like wildfire in the Guard and Reserve, the Air National Guard showed up in force making up approximately 56% of attendees, countering the inaugural event's Reservist heavy attendance. 

The event featured an array of presentations, panel discussions, and keynote speakers showcasing the latest policy changes and continued challenges in nine unique lines of effort such as childcare, maternal fitness, female specialized health care and issues, lactation rooms and in vitro fertilization, countering sexual assault and harassment, aircraft limitations and sanitation, and the Exceptional Family Member Program. Attendees had the opportunity to engage with subject matter experts and explore potential opportunities for collaboration.

“We've had huge advancements, especially in Line of Effort One which is child care and LOE Nine, the Exceptional Family Member Program as far as getting initiatives pushed out to our very senior leaders, and actually coordinating and doing congressional liaisons.”

With heavy support from the ANG, the ARC Athena team grew tenfold in size increasing their overall momentum and influence.

“We've been able to do a lot more campaigning this past year," said Chief Master Sgt. Rebecca Shatzman, the co-chair for AFRC and senior enlisted leader for the 911th Operations Group. “We were held on multiple panels within the last year and we've had several LOE champions and posture input since our two policies were released last year.”

In addition to emerging policy changes, ARC Athena also provided two forums for discussing critical issues facing the Air Reserve Component. The Parthenon Panel, a group of representatives from each Athena initiative – Torch, Sword, Dagger, Reach and ARC Athena – spoke on the genesis of their programs and the continuing success of each, underscoring that each was born by imposing challenges and fortified by that struggle.

One of the key themes that emerged from ARC Athena was the importance of collaboration in driving innovation. Maj. Gen. Regina “Torch” Sabric, the 10th Air Force commander, stated that ARC Athena, though on a much larger scale, reminded her of her time at Luke AFB, Arizona, as one of only four female fighter pilots who banded together to navigate caring for their families while serving in a military capacity.

“We started our own fighter pilot association for stuff like this," said Sabric. “No one ever really talked to us about how to care for a family and fly, how to handle female specific issues, so we formed our own little group. Our grassroots efforts back then were no different than this bigger grassroots effort right now. We have got to make things better for those Airmen coming up behind us.”

Additionally, Schatzman and Collier highlighted the value of persistence and determination in advocacy for change.

"There is one thing I need you all to understand,” said Schatzman. “In less than two year’s time, ARC Athena was a conversation in a classroom filled with career enlisted aviators. Today, ARC Athena is a conversion on Capitol Hill and will continue to break barriers in the AFRC and ANG"

As events drew to a close, Schatzman played a clip of Lt. Gen. John P. Healy, the chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of Air Force Reserve Command, testifying before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, just hours earlier on April 30.

“Our most important weapon system is and always has been our Airmen,” Healy testified. We are focused on ensuring that Airmen and their families receive the support they need. Two of our most significant lines of effort focus on providing accessible and affordable childcare for our members as well as making healthcare more accessible for family members with special needs through the Exceptional Family Member Program.”

Two very familiar lines of effort for all Airmen connected to the efforts of ARC Athena.

“This is what happens when you keep talking and keep the conversation going," said Shatzman. This is what happens when you don’t take a ‘No’ from someone who is not in a position to give you a ‘Yes.’ You make real change.”

As the defense community looks towards the future, events like ARC Athena and its four sisters will continue to play a crucial role in shaping the culture and capabilities of tomorrow. By fostering collaboration and innovation, the United States Air Reserve Component remains ready to defend the nation in an ever-changing world.