EL PASO, Texas -- A female Army captain made clear to the cadets at the University of Texas-El Paso Reserve Officer Training Corps during a 5th Armored Brigade Sisters-in-Arms panel discussion about the Army's 2020 Integration on Nov. 1 that job performance is the key principle of success, regardless of any gender.

"Commanding an infantry FSC (Forward Support Company) under Col. Weiss was one of the most rewarding jobs in my military career," said Maj. Krista Soria, 5th Armored Brigade executive officer and Sisters-in-Arms director. "What made it successful was that he didn't treat me or my company based on gender."

"The only thing that matters is if you can do the job," Soria added. "It was a really great relationship and experience."

From February 2007-08, Soria served as the Foxtrot FSC commander in direct support to the Illinois National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment. The FSC's were a new concept for the Army at that time and for a female Soldier and commander to be working directly for an infantry battalion was just as foreign.

Despite her initial trepidation, she knew it ultimately came down to how she integrated her unit and herself into the mission.

"I remember standing in an open field talking to Col. Weiss and a couple of other commanders when Col. Weiss decided to test our skills and our leadership," said Soria. "Foxtrot company excelled during this impromptu test which was comprised of hooking up a HMMWV (High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle) slingload without error."

The test wasn't so much an assessment to see if Soria and Foxtrot could do the job, as much as it was to show the units that her company was fully mission capable.

"It was the first time we were able to show not only the commander, but the rest of the line units that we were competent in our skills," said Soria. "We were there to support and we were there to stay."

Soria's experience with combat arms Soldiers and units is that of many women who've worked alongside and in support of them over the last decade of war. Many female Soldiers on the panel shared a similar journey with Soria, and also the willingness to prove themselves and work hard. The panel consisted of a diverse group of male and female captains, sergeants first class, a first sergeant, a master sergeant, the brigade commander and brigade command sergeant major.

"They all brought so many different experiences to the table to share with us," said LaTondra Moultrie, cadet in UTEP ROTC program. "I think it'll make a huge impact on females going forward."

Each person on the panel represented not only a different rank, but different experiences, branches, MOSs and perspectives.

Maj. Robert Pantoja, career infantryman and operations officer for 1st Battalion, 360th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Warhawg, 5th Armored Brigade, sat on the panel and delivered the message of mentorship and leadership.

"These young men and women will see many issues and have discussions similar to this throughout their military careers and exposing them to this topic will prepare them for the future," said Pantoja.

As for 1st Sgt. Gloria Belk, Patriot Missile crewmember and first sergeant for Alpha Company, 5th Battalion, 52nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, the Army's 2020 Integration is nothing more than an official backing to what she's been doing her entire career.

"I don't know anything other than what I've been doing for 17 years in the Army," said Belk. "It's new to us but not new to me."

She, too, has had a career of proving herself and leveling the playing field, not because she had to do it but because she wanted to be treated equally.

"People doubted me. They always tried to help me because I was female. They always tried to put me in the office because I was female," Belk said. "I didn't allow them to treat me any differently and because of that they accepted me with open arms."

The cadets were all ears. The Army's 2020 integration was something the panel knew very little because of the novelty of it, but the cadets had less information than that.

"I appreciate them for coming out and bringing that information because a lot of it I didn't know at all or wasn't very knowledgeable," Moultrie said. "I hope when more information comes out about it, the group can come back out and share the new information.

The 2020 Integration is a constant work in progress. With the gradual growth, more than 14,000 positions will be available in 2012. The goal is to open all jobs, positions, branches and MOSs to women by January 2016.

"I'm an infantryman, but I've had females on the asymmetrical battlefield with me," said Col. Raul Gonzalez, commander of 5th Armored Brigade. "It's not out of the norm, as we've been doing it for a decade, but we're just now making it official."

Soria and Belk, along with Sgt. 1st Class LaKenya Stokes, supply noncommissioned officer for 1st Battalion, 364th Engineer Regiment, Task Force Rampant, 5th Armored Brigade, Sgt. 1st Class Lashawn Moore, 1st Battalion, 362nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, Task Force Renegade, 5th Armored Brigade and thousands of other females have similar experiences of fighting for equality and relishing in the gratitude from peers and supervisors of a job well done.

"He treated everyone in the battalion the same, offered us the same training opportunities and expected us to perform as the same level as his line companies," Soria said. "I believe it was because of Col. Weiss's command philosophy and directives to his staff, that his intent was to be fully integrated and that the battalion would seamlessly support."

Page last updated Tue December 10th, 2013 at 14:19