DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
Women's History Month serves as a time to celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of women to culture and society. Examples of strong female leaders can be found at military bases across the globe. Rarely, however is an entirely female team leading a unit. But that is the unique case for the 436th Contracting Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.
The 436th CONS leadership team is composed of six mission-focused female leaders who leverage contracting warrant authority to deliver exceptional contracting solutions and strategies that drive mission excellence for Team Dover. They oversee a cadre of contracting professionals, with two buying flights and a plans and programs flight. These sections work together in executing a portfolio of over $607 million that supports Dover AFB and sustains more than 9,000 Airmen, joint service members, civilians and families.
The Air Force has certainly made strides to become a more inclusive environment for women, and is recognizing the distinctive contributions they have to offer. The all-female leadership team of the 436th CONS feel that the unique dynamic of their team is paving the way for a leadership style that is passionate, intuitive and respectful.
Not only are all six members of the team women, but they are also all current or prior service members. Together, they have 153 years of combined military and civilian government service, as well as 83 years of combined experience in contracting and acquisitions.
“I have been on quite a few teams and … I love the energy of this group because we each bring something unique to the table,” said Senior Master Sgt. Andrea Jordan, 436th CONS superintendent, “I just love watching these individuals grow, while I grow and learn from them.”
A mindset of growth and respect serves as the foundation of this high-performing team, which saw it’s start back in 2006, when Maj. Debora Berg, 436th CONS commander, and Russo served together during a deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan.
“At the time, ‘Captain’ Renee Russo was [on my leadership team] at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan,” said Berg. “Being a staff sergeant at the time, and at an army base, where you certainly felt the overwhelming numbers of men [in comparison to women], she did things to protect and take care of me.”
Russo joined the 436th CONS as a Department of Defense civilian in June 2020, one month before Berg became squadron commander, allowing them the opportunity to work together again.
“These ladies are really supportive,” said Stephanie Smith, 436th CONS operations flight chief. “I know I can run to them and let them know how I'm feeling. That's the great thing about this team, being surrounded by people who lift you up.”
While women today are encouraged to step up and take leadership positions, that was not always the case. Each team member has experienced their fair share of challenges as woman in the military.
Sharon Frasier, 436th CONS infrastructure flight chief, recalls a starkly different work environment during her first assignment in Guam, back in the late 1980s.
“I was 17 years old when I joined, far away from home, and the [office] climate was very different,” said Frasier. “People smoked in the office and there were lots of comments. I had to be very clear about what my boundaries were, stay true to myself and make sure that I, and those around me, were considered for what we were doing, not what we looked like, or because we were females.”
Anita Walls, 436th CONS plans and programs flight chief, shared a harrowing experience of disrespect during a presentation of colors for a group of retirees when she served in the base honor guard.
“I was the only female holding a rifle on stage among other men,” said Walls. “I was booed off the stage because they didn't feel a woman should be in uniform or representing the flag. I left in tears that day … but it was definitely a learning moment for me. I spent a total of three years [in] the honor guard, and was faced with different challenges after that. But I didn't quit or let it define me.”
Despite their individual hardships, each one of them uses their experiences to positively impact not only the 436th CONS, but also pave the way and inspire future female leaders.
“I am so incredibly blessed, honored and humbled to be able to lead this fantastic team,” said Berg. “We love what we do, we love being problem solvers and we love taking care of our people in the process.”