The U.S. Southern Command- (SOUTHCOM) sponsored Tradewinds exercise is crucial to building partnerships within the Caribbean region and providing participating nations a chance to conduct joint, combined, and interagency training. More importantly, it also affords the opportunity to discuss critical initiatives and train service members on those issues.
One initiative that SOUTHCOM highlighted in the 2022 exercise is the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Program. While it is focused on developing opportunities and partnership for inclusion, the program also addresses gender perspectives to encourage service members to look more broadly at situations and not make assumptions about gender roles.
“Because we’re dealing with security and defense, this is a very serious initiative,” said U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Duilia Turner, WPS chief at SOUTHCOM. “The data, studies, and by experience, we have learned that inclusion of women is about making the mission better […]. Talent does not have gender.”
Lt. Col. Turner is dedicated to helping people develop this mindset and build a foundation of understanding that improves the mission, strategically and operationally.
“For SOUTHCOM [WPS] has become a value, not just a program,” said Lt. Col. Turner. “Everybody deserves an opportunity, it decreases operational and strategic gaps, and it enhances mission effectiveness because it enhances our professionalism.”
The WPS initiative is based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in October 2000, which “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction.”
Belizean Defence Force Major Roberta Usher, operations and training officer at Force Headquarters, has been working as part of the SOUTHCOM WPS training team during Tradewinds.
“[Belize] launched our Women, Peace, Security in 2020 and since then we’ve been focusing on educating and training from the top down and the bottom up why this is important and how we go about doing it,” said Maj. Usher.
During Tradewinds 2022, carried out May 7-21 in Belize and Mexico, the SOUTHCOM training team conducted nine sessions reaching about 500 service members.
“We have heard amazing stories from Belize, Surinam, Guyana, and today, even groups within our own U.S. military, how they are integrating, and that really brings it home […],” said Lt. Col. Turner.
SOUTHCOM is a committed partner in advancing the priorities established in the WPS Program at all levels and all environments. Throughout the training, Lt. Col. Turner stressed that WPS training and understanding gender perspectives is for everyone regardless of rank, gender, or position.
“We have a sphere of influence where we can make change, it might be just with another peer, it might be with a subordinate, it might be a big strategic change,” said Lt. Col. Turner. “[WPS] is an additional skill just like if you’re gearing up with your weapon, with your boots, with your knowledge, you’re also gearing up with this knowledge of gender perspectives. Everybody is really an agent of change when it comes to gender perspective and bringing it home and actualizing it.”