The Guards, They Are A-Changing — Women’s Campaign Fund

Image by Elizabeth Fraser

All was quiet when this history was being made. To paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt, three people walked softly but carried a big moment.

Late last month, Sergeant of the Guard Army SFC Chelsea Porterfield completed her final walk as a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As the 38th Sergeant of the Guard, she was the first female to serve as one of the fortunate guards who stand and watch over the tomb.

She’s not the only nor the last female selected to honor the unknown soldiers we’ve lost. On this last walk for Porterfield, the other two positions in the change of the guard were also held by women: the sentinel who relieved Porterfield and the relief commander who presides over the procession.

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“We are all sentinels on this walk to make our democracy stronger.”

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This quiet history occurred 84 years after the memorial was erected at Arlington National Cemetery and on the 30,770th day of continuous guarding.

Making Someday This Day

It was likely bound to happen “someday.” That it did happen — for one of the most prestigious military duties in the armed services on a piece of our most hallowed ground — underscores once again the self-evident truths that we proclaim on the road to #5050x2028:

That we are stronger when the entire team plays.

That the best person for the job is the one who does it best.

That we are more united when women attain their rightful places in professions of their choosing.

The somedays are coming at a better pace now, but many steps remain on our watch. We are all sentinels on the walk to make our democracy stronger.

Treading Boldly

Every day, with the courage of battlefield warriors, women quietly expand into fields where once they were not welcome to tread, let alone command.

Former Air Force Col. Lee Ellis has described in three words the qualities critical for leadership in business and the military: character, competence, and courage. These characteristics are not gender specific and — more importantly — they are demonstrated in many ways. Having just one standard of measurement for “qualification” means having only one kind of leader and only one way to move forward. That benefits none of us.

Building a military and foreign policy agenda — with women in influential decision-making positions — is a recipe for flexible, robust leadership. It can advance our broader goals, whether for our society, economy, or political life. Each step leads to more inclusive decisions, and often, firmer and longer-lasting actions.

Breaking New Ground

One week after Porterfield took the final steps to complete her post, another military woman took a giant step, breaking new ground in her field. Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost took charge of the U.S. Transportation Command, whose critical military mission is to deploy and sustain service members anywhere in the world.

Van Ovost is the first female to hold that command. She’s no stranger to reaching new heights. She had a pilot’s license before she could legally drive a car.

“She’s a legend of a leader, and the American military is lucky to have her on the job,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the command change-over ceremony. “I know that she’ll continue to push the envelope and exceed all expectations, because that’s what she’s always done.”

Pushing the envelope. Testing the boundaries. Extending the limits. Then, on some days, placing one foot in front of another to honor, preserve, and advance our democracy — and those who ensure it prevails.

We can follow in their footsteps. It’s what we all must continue to do.

#5050x2028

©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund

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