FORT KNOX, Ky. (July 17, 2013) -- The year was 1976; a gallon of gas cost 60 cents, disco music was beginning to flavor the airwaves, afros dotted the landscape of the country, and three-piece polyester suits -- in every possible color you could think of -- paired with platform shoes, were the fashion craze.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., 19-year-old Shae Warzocha, then Cherrie Dobos, was preparing to enter into her third year of college; except she had a problem -- a big problem -- she'd didn't have the money to pay for it.

So Warzocha came up with a plan. She would join the Army to get money to pay for school.

Even though the self-described lost soul -- who had yet to declare a major -- had no crystal clear vision of what she wanted to do after she graduated, she did have a crystal clear vision of what she didn't want -- stay in her hometown of Battle Creek, Mich., and end up in a traditional female job as a secretary, cook or a nurse.

"I was looking for adventure," said Warzocha. "And the Army really delivered."

Ironically, however, all the Army had to offer women in the mid-1970s were traditional female jobs, so Warzocha entered the Army as a 75B -- personnel administration specialist, now referred to as human resources specialists.

"I wasn't that thrilled with it at the time," said Warzocha, "but looking back, honestly it was the best choice that could have happened, because I came in working in a processing center in the PAC -- personnel administration center -- and learned all the regulations. So for the rest of my career when people told me I couldn't do something or it couldn't be done, I knew it could because I knew the regulations. So it wasn't the job I wanted, but it ended up serving me well my whole career."

Warzocha's first assignment took her to Korea for two years. From there, she was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., to work in psychological operations after reenlisting as a graphic illustrator. She traveled for duty in Panama and Puerto Rico and was deployed to Grenada in 1983. There she earned a combat patch and a Joint Service Commendation Medal for her work in PSYOPS and designing the unit crest for the joint Caribbean force.

"That was a real high for me," said Warzocha. "I actually got to do my job for real… and be part of an actual conflict."

When she came back from Grenada, Warzocha was selected for recruiting duty where she stayed for 14 years until she retired in 1997 as a sergeant first class. Again, like her first job in the Army, her last job was one she would never have volunteered for, but that once again, proved to provide her with great learning opportunities and skills that have benefited her for life.

"Recruiting in the mid-1980s into the '90s was a hard, tough job -- kind of brutal -- especially since it wasn't anything I ever wanted to do, so for a couple of years, I fought it. Then once I realized I needed to do it well, I stopped fighting it and found a lot in recruiting I never thought I would. Now I can definitely not take no for an answer, I can deal with rejection and I can sell anything."

When she first started as a recruiter, they didn't have cell phones, computers or even pagers. Being
the only female in her recruiting battalion made her job even tougher.

"When my then husband, who was also a recruiter and a big, muscular, infantry kind of dude, would walk up to high school students -- they wanted to be like him -- rough and tough. But when I would talk to a young 16-year-old guy, he didn't necessarily want to be like me, because I wasn't Rambo but this little buck sergeant in a skirt, so I had to kind of work harder to get the same results.

"But competing against men throughout my career actually turned out to a good thing because it made me work harder, run faster and lift heavier things than I ever would have done, and I actually got quite good at it."

Warzocha witnessed and experienced a great deal of change in the Army during her 20 years of service. When she took her oath of enlistment in 1976, three years after the draft ended, women were still referred to as enlisted women. They weren't called Soldiers until the Women's Army Corps officially disbanded in 1978. After that, the Army changed rapidly, she said, and it was how "you presented yourself as a Soldier that really mattered."

Part of her training in basic included learning how to put on makeup, and when she landed at the airport in Grenada, she had to stay at the base on the runway for two days until Navy Seals could escort her in country because military policy, at the time, prohibited women from being in active combat zones.

Warzocha finds that recruiting has changed as well. She sees today's recruiting environment --where recruiters are shaped into ambassadors and encouraged to take part in their communities, as one that is more professional, where recruiters are better trained and better led.

Fast forward 37 years to the year 2013 and Warzocha, now the senior marketing analyst for the Army's Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS) program, looks back on her Army career with satisfaction, despite the trials and challenges of being among the first women to join the all-volunteer force.

"It was hard and in the moment I might not have told you I was happy, but certainly looking back, it was worth it and I'm glad I made the Army a career choice. Absolutely! I couldn't image being anything else and I'm still a recruiter. If I see a kid who needs some advice or think the Army could help him, I still recruit. I still stop a stranger and say 'Hey are you looking for a job, my employer is hiring.'"

Page last updated Wed July 17th, 2013 at 00:00