Sword Athena 2021 launches with virtual ceremony

  • Published
  • By Jennifer Spradlin
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs

Air Combat Command launched the second iteration of its Sword Athena (SA) leadership development & action-oriented event with a virtual ceremony March 23, 2020. 

Over the next 60 days, nominees from across the command will work to solve stressors for Airmen and their families identified after last year’s event, through online crowdsourcing, and nominees’ experiences while collaborating in Mission Area Working Groups (MAWGs).

The results of their work and their proposed solutions will be briefed to Gen. Mark D. Kelly, the commander of ACC.

During the launch, Lt. Gen. Christopher Weggeman, the deputy commander of ACC, likened the SA participants to the digital disruptors in Air Force cyber specialties who are pushing innovative change from within, calling them “cultural disruptors.” 

He said they were positioned to make positive change within the command and should take risks and challenge rules and policies to ensure ACC team members feel connected to each other and the mission while not sacrificing their personal lives. 

“We need everyone at their best, both personally and professionally, aiming for work-life harmony to be successful in our mission to train and equip combat ready forces to defend the nation,” Weggeman said. “We need Sword Athena to blaze a path and set the right example for the rest of the Air Force!”

Sword Athena has a humble origin as an idea to develop a women’s leadership symposium for ACC coupled with an initial query in the JBLE Women’s Officer Forum online. Since then, a core group of team members has grown the event, which follows the Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) model, while also completing their regular duties. 

This year two new MAWGs, Total Force and Spouse Inclusivity, have been added. Also new are the 60 weekly Agora sessions, based on the Greek word for a central place to assemble, further provide leadership development and mentorship.

Lt. Col. Timorah Beales, the 307th Civil Engineering Squadron commander, served on active duty for six years before transitioning to the Reserve. She said her involvement with Sword Athena has helped remind her how it felt to be a junior Airman with limited knowledge of how decisions were made in the Air Force.

“I think in this day and age, our Airmen want to be able to have a voice and to be a part of the solution. Sword Athena gives that to them,” she said. “But it’s not a free-for-all. It’s a deliberative process and we coach the members on how to address problems, find solutions and make requests from a four-star general.”

For 1st Lt. Nicole Blews, 735th Supply Chain Operations Group executive officer, seeing the successful initiatives of the first Sword Athena helped her realize how quickly change was possible and that senior leaders were listening. 

“The Child Development Center No Hat/No Salute initiative was something that I was glad to see happen. It’s a simple change that cost nothing and alleviates moments of stress for any Airman when they patronize the CDC,” Blews said.  

Blews first served an enlisted Airmen in a male-dominated transportation field. She said she faced discrimination and obstacles to success based on wrongly held beliefs about her gender and appearance. Those experiences helped develop her leadership philosophy on inclusion and ensuring all Airman have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential. 

“Everyone has a voice, and we need to get our Air Force to a place where Airmen are comfortable with sharing their voice,” Blews said.