As barriers get broken, missions get accomplished
April 26, 2013
The role of female Soldiers in the Army is changing.
The number of women serving in the Army has steadily increased throughout our history.
Today, roughly 140,000 women have taken the oath to defend the Constitution of the U.S. against all enemies as an American Soldier.
In 2012, combat arms units became available for women to serve in, and with change, come challenges.
In May 2012, I was assigned to an infantry battalion as a tactical intelligence officer for a pilot program designed to integrate women into combat arms battalions. The intent was to bring greater opportunities for both female Soldiers and their units.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from this experience is that change doesn't simply encompass the change in a unit culture, but also the change within myself.
When I was informed that I would be assigned to an infantry battalion, my initial thought was well, I guess I need to start running more. I had preconceived notions that I would be judged before I arrived, that they'd already have an impression of me before even knowing me as a Soldier.
Reflecting back, there were negative expectations on both sides, putting a wall between my future infantry unit and me. It wasn't until I was fully integrated into the unit that the wall came down.
The bottom line is, you don't know what you don't know. You just have to see it and experience it for yourself.
Evolution doesn't happen overnight. The infantry, above all, understands survival of the fittest. By realizing that the battalion expected Soldiers to be physically and mentally tough, I needed to quickly evolve in order to run with the pack.
Being one of eight females among 900 Soldiers definitely made me stand out. I knew I had to fit in, not just be an attachment to the unit or a trial run. I was insecure that with the high visibility, any action I took would be crucial to my future success.
Having that extra pressure afforded me increased motivation to excel. During this last year, through mentorship, leadership and cohesion with my Soldiers, we developed a strong team to be a fully mission-capable intelligence warfighting function.
Other females say that being in 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, has helped mature and develop our unit as a whole. This unit is more than a standard, one-dimensional infantry battalion. It's a mission-accomplishing team with a dynamic array of leaders and innovative thinkers.
Additionally, female Soldiers are given the opportunity to work alongside infantrymen and see exactly how we can support them better. Effectively, this integration has been a success for me and for my battalion.
To further our unit's growth, our battalion honored female veterans for Women's History Month, in March. Having the opportunity to be the officer in charge of the celebration helped me learn how much women have contributed to the military and our country.
This overall humbling experience increased my confidence as a Soldier, a woman and as a more dynamic and experienced leader. I am proud to stand out as a woman in this unit, to allow the next generation of female Soldiers to be confident that they too can be accepted based on performance and not on gender.
I'm optimistic that women will someday wear infantry blue colors, proudly display their Ranger tab and excel alongside their brothers in arms.
I hope to be there, standing with them in PT formation, wearing my neon pink running shoes.