Air Force personnel win multiple awards for advocacy

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  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Air Force personnel took honors in four separate categories Oct. 3 in the annual Excellence in Advocacy competition sponsored by the non-partisan organization Women in Government Relations. 

Maj. Sam Sliney, Air Force judge advocate, was selected for the “Advocate on the Rise” award; a group of six connected to the Air Force’s Women’s Initiatives Team – Maj. Megan Biles, Maj. Alea Nadeem, Christy Nolta, Lt. Gen. Mary O’Brien, Jessica Ruttenber and Sliney – took honors in the “Women Serving Women Campaign; Maj. Melissa Hemphill, Air Force Academy instructor, won the “Controversial Issue Campaign” category; and Biles collected the “New Volunteer Advocate” award for her work with the Air Force Women’s Initiatives Team. 

“We are proud to see our DAF Women’s Initiatives Team recognized for their work that strengthens the entire Department,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones. “The DAF is committed to removing barriers to service for all of our teammates – Airmen, Guardians, and our civilian workforce – and groups like the WIT have led the way to ensure that everyone can serve to their full potential.”    

The Washington-based Women in Government Relations has issued the awards annually since 2013. According to the organization, the effort was conceived “to coincide with the first Professional Women in Advocacy Conference. The intent of the awards is to put the spotlight on everyday advocates who dedicate themselves to representing their issue, cause, or organization in the public policy arena.” 

While individuals were recognized for their work, the effort linking them in several instances is the Air Force’s Women’s Initiative Team. The Women’s Initiatives Team has a broad portfolio but a specific purpose – identifying and addressing barriers to women in the service reaching their full potential and achieving fulfilled careers and suggesting policy changes to meet those goals. The members of the WIT’s Female-Specialized Health Care Programs, for example, have been at the forefront of efforts to change the Air Force’s health care system in a way that strengthens care provided to women in the Total Force.  

In the notation accompanying Sliney’s award, for example, the judges noted her advocacy “to ensure USAF has inclusive policies for women.” 

“She worked for three years to change the USAF and DoD policies regarding breastmilk shipping for servicewomen,” the notation said. “The secretary of Defense adopted her proposal in April 2022 and servicewomen are now reimbursed for shipping breastmilk when they travel. Sam not only secured this for servicewomen, but civilian women who are employees of the DoD. Sam has differentiated herself by her persistence and relentlessness to see this policy changed.” 

In justifying its selection of the team of six women earning the “Women Serving Women Campaign” award, the judges said: “The Women's Initiatives Team has demolished legacy and antiquated policy barriers to women's service, increasing readiness, recruitment and retention of women in the service.” 

Hemphill was praised by Women in Government Relations for her work on behalf of legislation that abolished a prohibition on USAFA cadets remaining in school if they became parents. 

The legislation known as the CADET Act states that a cadet cannot be forced to give up a child, may not be expelled after becoming a parent, and allows the student to take leave for up to one year before returning to the Academy. 

The language was folded into the massive annual defense policy bill known as the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that was signed into law. 

Finally, Biles' selection for the Volunteer Advocate award was based on “her work on the Air Force's Women’s Initiative Team resulting in several bills passed removing barriers for women in the military.”