Almost a quarter-century after the infamous Tailhook convention, Navy pilots from around the nation gathered last week at Naval Base Point Loma for another assembly.

Navy aviator showcased in Smithsonian video. Image via YouTube

This one was more friendly to women.

Nearly 200 attended the 2015 Female Aviators Career and Training Symposium, or FACTS, held June 23-24 at the Admiral Kidd Club.

The event didn’t pass without sarcasm, however.

Someone posting as Brian Kroenung wrote Monday: “When will the 2015 Male Aviators Career and Training Symposium (MACTS) be held?”

Attendees last week included female aviators from the ranks of ensign to admiral with both men and women as speakers.

The theme was “Fly, Fight, Lead: Mission Planning for Success,” covering a wide range of topics including talent management, leadership and mentorship.

In 1991, a Las Vegas meeting of the Tailhook Association led to Navy shame and scandal as more than 80 women reported being sexually harassed or assaulted.

Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, Naval Air Forces commander, didn’t attend last week’s event but provided a welcome.

“We must maintain the wholeness of our existing aviation forces,” Shoemaker said, describing the importance of viewing naval aviation as a “team sport.”

Comment posted Monday on news release about Point Loma assembly of female aviators. Image from navy.mil

Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, assistant commander for Navy personnel command, launched the symposium with remarks on the Navy’s latest talent initiatives.

According to Whitesell, the Navy faces numerous challenges, including the fact “women are the most underrepresented demographic, and not enough are staying in.”

To solve these challenges, he said, the Navy plans policy changes focused on modernizing the personnel system, enriching culture and providing training supported by innovation and information technology.

“There is nothing sacred out there right now,” Whitesell said on barriers to improving the personnel system. “If there is a policy, we’ll change it; if there is a law, we will urge legislative action. Everything is on the table.”

Many of the new initiatives focus on employing tools successfully used in the civilian sector.

These include expansion of the Career Intermission Program, removing rigid constraints of timing for promotion and finding ways to provide support for the lifestyle the Navy requires, including expanded hours at child development centers.

While the secretary of defense is reviewing some of the new objectives, many more require new and innovative solutions, said a Navy news release.

According to Whitesell, “flexibility is the name of the game,” and working groups are seeking out-of-the-box ideas from the fleet.

Rear Adm. Christopher Grady provided fleet perspectives and spoke on the importance naval aviation and the U.S. carrier fleet.

The successful completion of 2,375 combat sorties during his strike group’s recent deployment was a direct result of naval aviation’s “constant commitment to tactical excellence throughout the Fleet Response Plan,” Grady said.

With reference to his experience with female aviators on deployment, Grady stated, “Gender does not matter in combat or in upholding the standard of excellence. [Female] tactical leaders were represented in every squadron.”

Vice Adm. Robin R. Braun delivered one of the highlights of the symposium, a presentation regarding “Authentic Leadership.”

“Nobody had told me that women couldn’t do everything the guys could do,” said Braun, chief of Navy Reserve and commander of Navy Reserve Force.

Noting the limited pipelines available to women early in her career, Braun said: “I’m going to go and do the best that I can do; you never know when it will open up.”

Today, 96 percent of billets offered by the Navy are open to women, including combat aviation.

“Take what you see from those around you,” Braun said. “Be true to yourself, be true to who you are, and don’t stereotype what a leader is. … You are carrying a tremendous legacy, and we are immensely proud of you.”

The symposium concluded with a leadership panel focused on “Operational Leadership,” comprising Rear Adm. Sandy Daniels, Capt. Heidi Fleming of Naval Air Station Patuxent River and former operational squadron commanding officers Tamara Graham, Jennifer Wilderman, Erin Osborne and Molly Boron.

Naval aviation is known for promoting a challenging path to command often referred to as the “golden path”, but according to Daniels the “True golden path is providing leadership opportunities.”

“Every step along the way the Navy prepares you for the next,” Fleming said. “Do not miss an opportunity to learn.”

An attendee asked the panel when an officer knows he or she is ready for command.

“You know you are ready for command when you have a vision for that command and where you want it to be,” Daniels said.

Boron spoke of closed doors and open windows, adding a bit of sage advice: “You might not have a choice in the challenge, but you have a choice in how you react to the challenge.”

Said Vice Adm. Shoemaker, “We need your talents and perspectives to continue moving this great institution forward. … I look forward to seeing you out in the fleet!”

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