OSI honors ‘trailblazers’ during Women’s History Month luncheon

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

The Office of Special Investigations held its second annual Women’s History Month luncheon March 28, a gathering intended to honor and recognize pioneers in the fight for equity, diversity and inclusion within the military community.

“Thank you to the women who have come before us and who have blazed a trail we are traveling through,” said Brig. Gen. Amy Bumgarner, OSI’s commander, during the event. 

Among those honored were guest speakers ret. Col. Karen Esaias, OSI’s first female vice commander, and retired Senior Master Sgt. Carol Rhan, a senior enlisted Special Agent. Their careers, according to organizers, embodied the dedication and progress celebrated during the luncheon.

Special Agent Pearl Mundt, OSI’s executive director, kicked things off by expressing gratitude toward the women in OSI’s history. “It is great to be here, highlighting and honoring a few of our trailblazers,” she said. 

Mundt, OSI’s first female executive director, said their stories have inspired many of her own achievements within the agency. 

The first guest speaker, Esaias, reflected on her journey in the Air Force, beginning in 1980 when women made up "7 percent [of the total force]," she said, a figure that has risen to 21 percent.

Esaias shared highlights from her OSI career, starting with her role at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, where she became the detachment’s first female commander. Despite early advice that "if you like OSI, stay; if you want to get promoted, get out," Esaias chose to stay, challenging the status quo.

Throughout her career, Esaias took on several command positions within OSI, notably leading the 8th Field Investigative Region and establishing the Washington Field Office in the late 1990s, which culminated in her role as OSI’s vice commander before retiring.

Reflecting on the changing landscape for women in the military, Esaias said, “We’re running out of jobs that will be prefaced with, ‘the first woman to…’ and that’s a good thing [because] that’s what progress looks like.”

After Esaias shared her journey, Chief Master Sgt. Gregg Gow, OSI’s command chief and the event’s emcee, introduced Rhan, who represented the enlisted perspective. She began by addressing how important diverse experiences are when sharing a path toward progress. 

“There are a lot of common themes going on here, right? But to hear these stories is so powerful," she said. 

Rhan talked about being frequently one of the first or only women in her roles within OSI and the military. This included leading teams, participating in counter-espionage efforts and her eventual rise to senior leadership positions.

Amid personal anecdotes, Rhan mentioned the significance of mentorship and support she received from both men and women throughout her career, adding how these relationships were key to overcoming challenges and achieving success. 

She specifically praised the men who supported her journey, acknowledging their crucial contributions. This sentiment was echoed by all the speakers, who also credited male mentors for their roles in fostering career growth.

In her closing remarks, Bumgarner addressed the men in the audience. She thanked them for attending and noted that “we are in this together. It’s important to have a month for women’s history -- but you are part of this.”

She then redirected attention to the contributions of the speakers, acknowledging the ongoing journey towards equality.

“When I think about trailblazers and all of their experiences, they truly were walking across a path and pushing the grass down, making a way for all the rest of us to come,” she said. “They went through this, and the things they experienced were to make a way for the rest of us.”

“I am here today with stars on my shoulders because of leaders and women like them,” she said. “Remember that we have a rich history. It's something to all be very proud of.”