Women's group takes flight: SpangDamen get-together, learn, laugh

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natasha Stannard
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
They didn't start the group to mentor people or warn them about the dangers of sexual assault; though, those are two things they sometimes talk about.

Senior Master Sgts. Teri Herrera, 52nd Fighter Wing judge advocate from Columbus, Ohio, and Vicki Lemke, 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions production section chief from Palm Bay, Fla., started "SpangDamen" so other women could find confidence in themselves and make choices that will lead them to success.

SpangDamen is a grass-roots support network that provides military women of all ranks an open forum in which they can talk about what's on their mind, seek advice, ask questions and network.

"We just want to be there for one another," said Lemke. "I want other women to know that they're not alone, that there are people out their going through the same things they are, and we can help one another."

For Herrera and Lemke, the key is to build confidence at monthly meetings and activities. So far, they've held six meetings and a dinner at the base dormitories, which is where a majority the younger female Airmen live.

"Sometimes it's a very serious, focused discussion," said Lemke. "And sometimes it's an open, more flexible discussion where we laugh, eat and let the conversation take its own path."

Most of the meetings don't have scheduled topics. If something serious like a sexual assault or harassment happens, the group will discuss it because it's important to address and not ignore that these things could happen. But often, the conversation takes a light-hearted direction where female Airmen, NCOs, senior NCOs and officers share their stories and talk about how they deal with day-to-day challenges from balancing work and home life. They also, no matter what rank, have the opportunity to learn things about one another such as what it's like living in the dorms, how senior NCOs and officers got to where they are, and what common challenges they face or have faced.

"People don't even have to talk they can just listen," Herrera added.

"We had one Airman at our dorm dinner, Airman Andom, she didn't say much, she just listened," said Lemke. "She came up to us after the meeting and said she felt so empowered."

Senior Airman Mary Andom, 52nd Mission Support Group member from Seattle, said she went to the meeting not really knowing what to expect. She knew about the group, but wasn't really sure if she'd feel comfortable opening up to higher ranking women.

"In the beginning it was intimidating, especially when you don't know someone and they're higher ranking," she said of the dorm dinner. "But, sitting there and listening, I saw that they're coming from a good place and want to help us. They didn't force any conversation; it was just very natural and fluid. We talked about everything from education to military marriages. One of the women who was there is married to another military member and she shared how they balance the challenges that come along with that. It was all good information shared from other military women's perspectives."

Andom said she was happy she went to the dinner and that she found a group like this, because the conversations taught her how to get through real issues military women face that formal military training never went over.

"Basic training and technical training school can only cover so much," she said. "Neither of those really cover the vast array of challenges women can face, but this group shows all female Airmen that they're not alone in their struggles no matter how big or how small their dilemmas may be, and that there are women out there - successful senior NCOs, officers and Airmen who made it through."

The SpangDamen women's group meets every third Thursday, 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. at the Spangdahlem Conference Room located in the Wilkommen Center behind Kuhl Beans. Women are encouraged to bring a brown bag lunch to the meeting.