Sword Athena 2021 drives positive change for servicewomen, families

A coalition of volunteers from across Air Combat Command came together to identify, tackle, and propose solutions to female- and family-centric barriers to readiness during the second annual Sword Athena 2021. The group focused on two key efforts to normalize support for nursing mothers: allowing Bluetooth-enabled breast pumps in secure facilities and compensating ACC civilians for nursing breaks.

The grassroots event culminated in an outbrief to Gen. Mark Kelly, ACC commander.

Capt. Jennifer McNeill, an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, was the inspiration for the first line of effort. McNeill was committed to breastfeeding her daughter, yet aware of the strain her absence to utilize the lactation room may put on her squadron and tactical training.

To accomplish both, McNeill submitted an administrative package to allow her wireless, Bluetooth-enabled breast pump into a secure facility. The pump is nearly silent and can be discretely worn under the uniform, allowing McNeill to use it during pre-mission briefings and debriefs.

“These changes have allowed me the opportunity to maintain my status as a tactical asset while not feeling pressure to give up on breastfeeding,” McNeill said.

McNeill shared the approval process and her lessons learned with Sword Athena to benefit nursing Airmen across the ACC, and to standardize the process. From there, Tech. Sgt. Taylor Song, an Airman from the 9th Security Forces Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California and SA co-chair, took on the internal staffing process.

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