Women in Defense

Recently, I was invited to sit on a leadership panel during a Women in Defense EMPOWER event. It was an incredible opportunity and it seemed like the perfect lead-in to tell you all about the organization. I first learned about Women in Defense, or WID, when I was working in Washington, D.C. As the then Director, National Security and Foreign Affairs for VFW, I was looking for organizations to join that would help me integrate into the D.C. defense and national security community and WID looked like it fit the bill.

WID EMPOWER Event Leadership Panel with Moderator Debbi Gray

WID EMPOWER Event Leadership Panel: Moderator Debbi Gray (L), Navy Chief and 2017 U.S. Fleet Forces Sailor of the Year John Herrman, After the DD-214’s Sarah Maples, Mayo Clinic Administrator and Navy Veteran Ann-Marie Knight, and CAPT Craig Mattingly, Commodore Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing ELEVEN

WID, incorporated in 1985, became an affiliate of the National Defense Industrial Association, an educational nonprofit focused on promoting best practices and products for warfighters and others in national security, in 2004. WID supplement’s NDIA’s mission by providing a business environment for professional growth through wrap-around education and career development events in order to advance women in national security. WID also encourages women to pursue careers in national security and defense through their HORIZONS scholarship.

WID has 20 chapters across the country, which hold individual networking and professional development events throughout the year, and convenes an annual conference for the entire organization. I had the opportunity to attend their national conference a couple of years ago, where I was privileged to hear Gen. Lori Robinson, the first female Combatant Command commander, speak, hung out with the amazing Lean In Military founder and Lean In Women Veterans co-founder Erika Cashin, and even received a free headshot. If you’re interested in attending, this year’s event will be held June 13, 2019, in Arlington, VA, and WID conference registration is currently open.

Despite the benefit I’d seen in WID membership, however, when I moved to Florida late last year and took a job unrelated to defense, I didn’t think WID was still an organization that applied to me. And then I met Amanda Hawkins.

I first saw the retired Naval Flight Officer, former Commanding Officer for Patrol Squadron Sixteen, and current President of WID’s Florida First Coast Chapter at a Vets 4 Vets event, where she was on stage speaking about Women in Defense to a room full of veterans. When I met her at a Northeast Florida Women Veterans Gala a few months later, she immediately invited me to a WID networking event—an invite that has changed everything about how I interact with my new city! In addition to introducing me to some inspiring individuals—men and women—the invite has dominoed into other opportunities, including the participation in the leadership panel, introduction to a number of individuals who are going to do future posts for the blog (stayed tuned as they are going to be amazing!), and the connection with a new organization, Generation W, whose mission to educate, inspire, and connect women and girls is one I am excited to get involved with and whose upcoming ‘NO FRIENDS’ event promises to introduce me to an even broader professional network.

I don’t want you to take my word for how great WID is, though, so I sat down with Amanda to get her take on how she got involved with WID and how it benefited her during her transition from military to civilian life.

WID Florida First Coast Chapter President Amanda Hawkins and fellow WID members help register guests for the WID EMPOWER Event May 11, 2019

WID Florida First Coast Chapter President Amanda Hawkins and fellow WID members help register guests for the WID EMPOWER Event May 11, 2019

How did you first get involved in WID?

I was at a pool party while still on Active Duty and someone mentioned it. I had never heard of it before, but as a slight introvert and a military member who worked long hours and was deployed for extended periods of time, I felt very disconnected from Jacksonville and was having a challenging time meeting professional women in my community; WID seemed like a possible solution. Plus, membership is free for active duty members and government civilians, so I really didn’t have anything to lose.

Obviously, since you’re now President of the Florida First Coast Chapter of WID, that first meeting went well! What appealed to you and made you want to continue to be involved with this organization?

WID Florida Coast Chapter President Amanda Hawkins interview Keynote Speaker Donna Orender, Founder Generation W

WID Florida Coast Chapter President Amanda Hawkins interview Keynote Speaker Donna Orender, Founder Generation W

It was fun! I met a number of supportive, fun professionals, like Debbi Gray, this chapter’s first president, and Donna Orender, former President of the WNBA and founder of Generation W, who served as keynote speaker for our recent EMPOWER event. WID introduced me to these women—and even many men!—and I was able to make meaningful connections that ultimately helped me steer my post-military path.

Tell me a little more about how WID and its members influenced your transition and post-military career.

I wasn’t really sure which passion to pursue after leaving the service and my fellow WID members helped to connect me with successful men and women at the top of their organizations for informational interviews.  It was through one of these informational interviews that the idea was sparked to combine my background in environmental science, organizational development skills, and understanding of the Federal government in a business environment.  I had no background in entrepreneurship, but Debbi, our former chapter president, who is the top of her field, started providing me amazing advice—FOR FREE!—that was key in getting me started down that path. She connected me with other WID members who could offer additional advice and they did the same and soon I had this entire network of strong, supportive individuals who were willing to help me succeed. I ultimately started my own business, Ursus USA LLC, which provides environmental remediation and business consulting services.  We might be thinking right about today but we’re not thinking right about tomorrow and Ursus USA wants to help us prepare for that future, something I likely would not have done without WID.

How did you end up as WID’s First Coast Chapter President and what have you learned in the process?

I happened to be retiring from active duty service when WID was holding their annual election period and several members encouraged me to throw my name in the hat. I had no experience running a non-profit, so it’s been a steep learning curve. I had to learn a lot of new skills, such as how to raise funds for an organization, how to grow membership and develop a strategic plan with our affiliate organization, NDIA. It’s been an amazing growth opportunity and I’m proud to be a part of it. We just held our first annual EMPOWER event, which you participated in and which was a success, and we look forward to growing it over the coming years. We’ll also continue our series of networking, educational, and social events throughout the year.

A big thanks to Amanda for taking time to sit down with me and discuss WID and how it can benefit transitioning service members…and for the initial invite which is connecting me to Jacksonville in a new way! If you’re in the Jacksonville area and you’re looking for a way to get connected to a professional community—or you just want to hang out with me and Amanda (because, I mean, who wouldn’t?)–you can check out the Florida First Coast Chapter here:

  • Text WIDFC to 22828 to join the mailing list
  • Join the Women In Defense First Coast Chapter LinkedIn group
  • Like our Women In Defense First Coast Facebook Page
  • Email us at WID.FC@outlook.com
  • Visit our website

If you’re not in Jacksonville, but you’d like to find a local chapter of WID to join, or just learn more about them, you can check out the national organization here:




© 2019, Sarah Maples LLC. All rights reserved.

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