OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The U.S. Army Oklahoma City West Recruiting Company hosted a Women’s Achievement Panel at Southern Nazarene University on International Women’s Day, March 8, for young women attending local middle and high schools.

The panel was comprised of six successful women who spoke about their experiences and answered questions to provide inspiration and guidance for the young women as they navigate the difficulties of their teenage years and start looking toward what they would like to accomplish in the future.

Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, acting commanding general, U.S. Army Forces Command, provided the keynote address. As the first female combat helicopter battalion commander in the Army while deployed in Iraq to being the first female deputy commanding general and now acting commanding general of FORSCOM today, she said she never imagined that all of this was possible, but that she’s found her life’s work very satisfying and that she feels like she’s made a difference.

Richardson advised the young women that they own their own success and encouraged the adults in the room to help our youth find their dream and connect the pathway to that dream.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, it will be hard to get there,” she said. “There are so many opportunities out there in our country for military service. For public service. For national service. Our teachers, coaches and parents are our guides to those opportunities. Those opportunities are fleeting. If you’re not ready to reach and grab them in high school, there’s a good chance they won’t come around again and they will pass you by.”

After her speech, Richardson answered questions as part of the panel of women, which included 1st Sgt. Danielle Balson, U.S. Army Tulsa Recruiting Company; Col. Lisa Bartel, commander, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade; Dr. Jeanette Mendez, dean of Arts and Sciences, Oklahoma State University; Judge Barbara Swinton, Oklahoma Court of Appeals; and Avilla Williams, president of Integris Health Edmond.

All of the panel members spoke about their journey and encouraged each of the young women present to find their passion and not be afraid to pursue their dreams. When the student began to ask questions of the women, the recurring themes were how to balance your career with family obligations and how to overcome adversity. The panel members addressed each of the questions the students posed, being honest about some of the challenges they’ve faced while also stressing that it is possible to have it all and successfully manage a career while also being a loving mother and role model to your children.

Swinton, who shared a story about an opponent’s political ads about her while she was running for a judicial post, reminded the audience that there’s always someone who has experienced what you’re going through or who can provide sound advice that you can reach out to when things get tough. She said that that one of her colleagues provided her with the best piece of advice during a difficult moment for her and that she still tries to apply it to situations today.

“Don’t take it personally,” said Swinton. “It sounds easy to say and hard to do, but it’s the best piece of advice I ever got. You will get through it. It might not be comfortable, but you will learn from it and grow from it.”

After the panel, the students were able to have lunch with some women drill sergeants visiting from Fort Sill and other role models who were able to answer questions and provide individual advice. Before the breakout discussion, Richardson offered some final advice to the attendees.

“Don’t think too hard about some things,” she said. “Just get up and go do it.”