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DSS Employee A Role Model for Women in Military

Lt. Col. Lillian Smith has served her country for 34 years in the Navy and Louisiana National Guard and the people of Louisiana for 25 years as an employee of DSS' Office of Community Services.
BATON ROUGE (January 12, 2009) - In the 34 years that Lt. Col. Lillian Smith has served her country, she has seen a drastic difference in the military and the women who make up its ranks.

"It's absolutely amazing how things have changed," Smith said. "There are a lot of intelligent, beautiful women who are joining the military. There's no longer the stereotype that you have to be manly."

The 52-year-old Smith's "day job" is as Alexandria regional administrator for the Department of Children & Family Services' Office of Community Services. A 25-year employee of OCS, she oversees all public child welfare functions for the eight central Louisiana parishes. In her spare time, she is a lieutenant colonel with the Louisiana Army National Guard, serving as chief facility engineer.

Her two jobs go hand-in-hand, she said, explaining that her OCS colleagues support her in her military duties.

"I couldn't have done this if it weren't for the supportive group who worked with me at OCS," she said. "They're the ones who I attribute my success to."

Smith helped coordinate OCS emergency response efforts prior to Hurricane Gustav, just before she was activated by the National Guard on Aug. 29 to transfer citizens evacuating on buses.

"We're so fortunate to have employees like Lillian Smith who are dedicated to Louisiana's most vulnerable children and families. Her patriotism and commitment to our country and its military is exceptionally admirable," said DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols.

Brent Villemarette, OCS director of field operations and Smith's immediate supervisor, said her two careers complement each other and have assisted her in excelling in both jobs.

"Lillian's military training and skills are completely evident in her leadership skills. She is focused, disciplined, compassionate and most of all forward thinking," Villemarette said. "She truly is the citizen hero to so many of us; a person who sets the example both in and out of uniform."

After graduating from Bolton High School in 1974, Smith joined the Navy and was stationed at Pearl Harbor for three and a half years. She eventually returned to Louisiana, was graduated from Louisiana College, and joined the National Guard in 1983.

At that time, there were only three female officers in her National Guard unit. She was accepted by her male peers, as long as she didn't seek a leadership position, she said. When she tried to move up the ranks, she encountered the stereotypical glass ceiling.

"There was a lot of discrimination. It wasn't the individuals, but the system," she said. "I had a lot to contend with, but I had some wonderful role models who were males."

Today, Smith serves as a mentor for other women, including an OCS co-worker she recently encouraged to become a social worker with the National Guard.

She's optimistic that women are holding more executive and management roles.

"I try to encourage the younger ones. I tell them you shouldn't have to go through the same problems I did. If a man can do it, you can do it," she said.

Although juggling her career, military commitment and two small sons was often challenging, Smith said her parents and her OCS colleagues sustained her and gave her the strength to carry on.

The "excitement of a non-traditional job" and the camaraderie she feels with more than 11,500 fellow National Guardsmen inspire her to maintain her commitment to the military. She conceded she considered retiring after 20 years with the military, but stayed because her superiors had confidence in her and told her she could stick with it.

"It's determination. I was told that you can always go further than you thought you could if someone believes in you -- a lot of people believed in me," she said.