Women cross more combat lines
December 19, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. (Dec. 13, 2013) -- Women have been crossing the lines into combat for years, but for the first time the Army is taking mindful steps to train and integrate them for such positions.
The Army recently completed its notification to Congress to allow female artillery officers to serve in positions throughout the Army excluding Special Operation Forces. Now they can serve within direct support field artillery battalions, brigade combat teams and cannon battalions in fires brigades. These positions include fire direction officer (platoon and battalion), cannon platoon leader and executive officer.
Fire support jobs at the company and battalion level are still closed and will not open until infantry and armored military occupational specialties accept females.
Seventeen brigade combat teams are transitioning these Soldiers into their units in steps using the Women in the Army program.
Steps 1 and 2 focus on the integration of female leaders and Soldiers at the battalion level. Steps 3 and 4 focus on the integration of female leaders and Soldiers at the company and troop level.
Currently nine brigades are at Step 2 and eight other brigades are at Step 1.
"The guidance changed in the beginning of September. I wrote a commander directly at Fort Campbell, and I brought up the [military personnel] message in saying I wanted the opportunity just like everyone else to expand my positions," said 2nd Lt. Caitlin Stein.
Stein is one of the first along with her classmate, 2nd Lt. Ashley Solonar, who are being placed in a brigade combat team directly after training.
"I think it's just like any branch integration that sooner or later it will become normal," said Stein.
For the women in the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course the announcement answered a lot of their concerns about their futures, particularly the officers who aren't branch detailed and able to switch from field artillery in the future.
"Every time we had the commandant or battalion commander talk to us I would raise my hand and ask what this means for females because it looked like we were at a dead end as soon as we made captain. Since we couldn't take a platoon and we basically need to take command, our career stops here. You guys are letting us in, but we'll only get so far. When that came out and they said we get to take command now I was like there you go," said 2nd Lt. Katrina Nathaniel.
After completing the five-and-one-half month training, the women are nervous about their futures, but they are certain they are capable of completing the mission.
"I think any young lieutenant going out to the force has a right to be nervous because it's our first duty station, it's our first time being in front of people actually leading Soldiers," said Solonar.
"I think there will be proving to do, but at the same time we've received the same training, so it's not like we're any less proficient. Most of the females in our class were in the top of the class. It's not that we don't know what we're doing, it's how we'll be perceived," said 2nd Lt. Haley Fisher.
Those concerns were brought up while they were in training, and the women are fully aware of the pressure that comes with being part of the groundbreaking process for leading men in the Army.
"The topic got brought up about women on the battlefield and I know someone spoke up and was like 'I don't know if I could trust a woman to carry my weight if I were to go down. How could they carry my ruck and my gear and myself?' and it was just hypothetical conversation, but it's stuff like that that people are going to base their general opinions off," said Stein.
"We hear stories like the female engagement teams that are attached to infantry units. The story I was told was there was an IED attack and all the men were running to the female tent instead of running toward the enemy so it's like the male perception of 'I have to protect the females' instead of 'We can take care of ourselves,'" said Nathaniel.
As part of FA BOLC, the Soldiers went to the field to learn the different jobs on the gunline. Nathaniel said she knew there were questions about whether or not the women would be able to handle the tasks when it came to loading the 95-pound 155 mm rounds into the guns, but she wanted to show it is possible, even with an injury.
"[Field artillery] was my third choice, but if I can open up doors for females coming up I'm going to do it. So I was like I have to lift this round. I don't care if I'm hurt, I've got to lift it. One of the gun chiefs was watching me as I was forcing the round and dropping it and getting it set," said Nathaniel. "I'm just trying to show that females [deserve] a chance. If they can do it let them do it."
"We're going to be the trendsetters on how we handle the situation. That's what they told me going through [Officer Candidate School], 'Look you guys are the G.I. Janes going in.' How we're perceived by the younger enlisted Soldiers is going to make it easier for the females to come after us," said Nathaniel.
The officers may be some of the few females in a male dominated field, but they are excited about the glass ceiling shattering to allow enlisted women to join them as well. They all agreed that the standards to allow females to serve in combat roles do not need to be lower. On the contrary, they expect and appreciate being held to the same standards.
"Look I'm a person. Expect me to do whatever the job requires me to do because that's what I'm here to do that's what I've been trained for and that's what I'm going to do to the best of my ability," said Solonar.