Inaugural Torch Athena Conference Brings Female Airmen, Guardians Together

  • Published
  • By 2d Lt Lauren Niemi
  • 82 TRW Public Affairs

Women from across AETC convened in the heart of San Antonio for the first-ever Torch Athena Conference between September 19th and 21st. The event is dedicated to celebrating the efforts and milestones of women in the Air Force, as well as discussing how to lower barriers to service and to further equality within the service.

Athena events are regularly hosted at other major commands, but Torch Athena was the first within the Air Education and Training Command. Named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, strategy, and courage, Athena is seen as both an example and a representation of the female service member.

Holding such an event at AETC allowed the panel to impact multiple generations of Airmen at the same time, from senior officials to brand new lieutenants, including 2d Lt. Kaleigh Moss, who is on her first assignment in a special recruiting position known as a Gold Bar Recruiter in the 311th Recruiting Squadron.

“It is inspiring to meet all of these women in different roles in the Air Force, and to be able to connect with them makes it even better,” she said, “The community among women in the Air Force is unique and close-knit through shared backgrounds and experiences, and I’m happy to know that they’ll be there when I need them most.”

The conference began with words from some of the Air Force's most influential voices, including Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, AETC Commander Lt. Gen. Brian Robinson, and Second Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Michele Edmondson. Each speaker championed diversity and inclusion within the Air Force, drawing on experiences from throughout their careers.

Attendees learned from successful women in various career fields, including aviators, a SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape) medic, security forces defenders, and one of only five female TACPs (Tactical Air Control Party) in the Air Force. They shared experiences of overcoming adversity, breaking barriers, and excelling in male-dominated fields. Their journeys were a testament to the indomitable spirit of women in uniform.

The conference provided a unique platform for attendees to network and engage in open discussions about how to improve the Air Force. Over 200 men and women in attendance contributed their diverse viewpoints for military readiness, and an understanding that a more inclusive Air Force leads to stronger, more innovative solutions to the challenges of national defense.

“The panels were awesome! However, getting the chance to meet and collaborate with other like-minded people and hearing their stories was probably my favorite part,” said Technical Sergeant Brittany Ward, Apprentice Course NCOIC, Electrical Power Production.

On the last day, Torch Athena moved to the flight line where young girls from throughout the San Antonio area explored aircraft and careers from across the Air Force, including linguists, medical evacuation personnel and aircraft maintainers. There was truly something of interest to everyone on the tarmac.

As the event came to a close, it was clear that Torch Athena left a lasting impression on everyone in attendance, whether through the panels on stage or the newly-fostered sense of community. 

“Torch Athena is a solid reminder that we aren’t alone, despite what it may look like when we look around,” said 1st Lt. Sonya Datta, an instructor pilot from Sheppard Air Force Base’s 80th Flying Training Wing, “It serves to add to our perspective and also validate our experiences. Our goal should be to normalize women in the military to the point and the numbers that Torch Athena is no longer necessary, nor feasible!”

Captain Caroline Gagnon, another instructor pilot from the 80th FTW, hopes to bring both the experience and lessons learned from the event back to Team Sheppard. 

“I left inspired to rise to the standards that need to be met, as well as reflect on areas that can be better reformed,” she said. “That way, you allow women to use their talents to best support the Air Force’s mission.”