Missouri Guardsmen learn story of Rosie the Riveter

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Traci Howells
  • 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Missouri National Guard Airmen and Soldiers assigned here at the oldest operational military installation west of the Mississippi River gathered May 4 to experience a unique piece of living history as a proud granddaughter shared a vision of servant leadership.

Leah Winchester is the granddaughter of Naomi Parker, who was the inspiration for the original Rosie the Riveter, and has been at the forefront of an emerging partnership between the surrounding communities and at the base, which serves as a home for 2,000 Airmen and Soldiers.

For this event, Winchester was asked to serve as the keynote speaker for “Leaders In Action,” an evening of professional development sponsored by Jefferson Barracks’ joint service Sisters-in-Arms Council.

“I want you to walk away today with a challenge from my grandmother,” Winchester said. “And that is the challenge from her letter.”

She went on to quote the letter:

“You stand at the crossroads of life, and look upon the future,” Parker wrote many years ago. “You have a long life ahead, and it’s your right to choose the road that you wish to walk on. One road is darkness, and the influences are many… The other road is of love and charity, and cleanliness of mind…”

Parker’s image is known worldwide – as Rosie the Riveter, she is included in the iconic “We Can Do It” campaign poster that gained popularity during World War II and later became a symbol the feminist movement in America. She went unknown for almost 70 years before being discovered, but Winchester said her grandmother was never interested in fame or notoriety.

Instead, she clung to the values she penned in a letter Winchester shared with the audience: love, charity, cleanliness of mind, peace and forgiveness, and service to others. Winchester said these values can be applied to leadership today and urged the audience to put them into practice by taking a servant leadership approach with their people.

 “Servant leaders need to understand their troops’ positive qualities,” she said. “I encourage you to figure out how you can use your Airmen’s strengths. Servant leaders use foresight, they use empathy, active listening, awareness, stewardship and healing.”

Next, she said, “servant leaders need to be aware of their surroundings, but also of their followers’ mindsets, so they can motivate them, take care of their needs, and get the mission accomplished.”

“Servant leaders practice foresight and empathy,” Winchester said. “People make mistakes. Good leaders know when and how to respond appropriately.”

Technical Sgt. Lee Moore, a member of the 131st Bomb Wing’s 157th Air Operations Group command support staff and vice president of the JB Sisters-in-Arms Council, said the event was designed to give Airmen and Soldiers an opportunity to come together and get to know each other outside of the work environment and to engage with senior leadership.

"We know the wing commander (Col. Ken Eaves) is passionate about improving the culture in our organization,” Moore said. “In order to change a culture, we have to have to talk directly to the members to find out their needs.”

Winchester’s speech was followed by a panel discussion featuring a joint leadership team representing both the Air and the Army National Guard.

Moore said, though the event was sponsored by the JB Sisters-in-Arms, it was open to all members; therefore, the panel members were specifically chosen to represent diversity of military service branch, ethnicity, gender and experience.

The panel included: Air Force Col. Clarence “Chip” Atterbury, 157th Air Operations Group commander; Army Maj. Sandy Stover, the Missouri Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion’s east side commander, Command Sgt. Maj. Kannon John, the Missouri Army National Guard’s state command sergeant major; Command Chief Master Sgt. Jessica Settle of the 131st BW; and Chief Master Sgt. Carla Hampton, the 131st Medical Group’s superintendent.

The discussion was focused on leadership, diversity and inclusion, with the panel members also sharing personal stories of how they overcome obstacles.

When asked what the biggest diversity and inclusion issue she has faced in her career, Settle shared the story of trying to join the military as a young female. She encountered male a recruiter that gave her incorrect information and created arbitrary barriers for her. Instead of helping her, he made it more difficult.

She eventually connected with a female recruiter who informed her that her previous male recruiter had been let go because he had not believed women should be allowed in the military.

“If I had not had the perseverance to overcome that obstacle, I would not be here today,” she said.

The JB Sisters-in-Arms president, Air Force Lt. Col. Rachel Jackson, said the organization was created as a tool to help develop and represent the military women assigned at JB, but is not exclusive to women.

“We are banding together to work out common issues, establish more connections, and focus on personal and professional development,” Jackson said. “This is the first of many events to come as we continue to strengthen partnerships and a culture of dignity and respect.”