Women serve today on battlefield
November 10, 2008
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - "The Women's Army Corps forged for me the ability to be a pilot in a war zone," said Capt. Erin Braswell, an aero medical pilot for Multi-National Division-Baghdad.
"I believe we will continue to have women pave the way," said Braswell, who serves with Company C, 2/4th Aviation Regiment, Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.
"Obviously though, there are still jobs we as women can't do," Braswell said, sitting on the Camp Taji flight line next to the air ambulance helicopter she spent all night flying around the Baghdad area. "Being a female in the military, you have to show you are strong and you have to be a leader."
During World War II, more than 150,000 women served in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The WAAC was the precursor organization for the WAC, which disbanded 30 years ago as its members were integrated into the regular Army.
Today, women serve in many roles in the military to include pilots, doctors, lawyers and commanders.
"It was instilled to me at a young age that serving was something I had to do," said Capt. Jennifer Miles, commander of Headquarters Support Company, 2nd Bn., 4th Avn. Regt. "What I love about the Army is the camaraderie. Taking command of a company is one of the things I am most proud of during my military career.
"I like having Soldiers thank me for something I did, but all I did was empower them to accomplish a goal," said Miles, who is a self-proclaimed Army brat, as her father is a retired sergeant first class from the Army. "It's a good feeling when you accomplish something.
"What the WAC did for us was get our foot in the door," she added. "It is not easy spending 365 days away from the United States, but I would much rather be doing this than working in a cubicle in an office somewhere. For me, commanding a company in a warzone wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for the women who were part of the WAC."
Although women command thousands of men today, they are still not allowed to be in such fields as the Infantry or Artillery. Yet many women are actively engaged in combat operations in Iraq.
"I had an enemy troop engagement during the CAB's deployment to Iraq in 2006, where the enemy was right out in the open, which was a dream come true," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nicole Shuman, Apache attack helicopter pilot from Pittsburgh. "This is a great job. Not a lot of women get to fly and especially in a combat role. It feels good supporting the troops on the ground.
"For anyone thinking about joining the Army, this is the greatest job ever," said Shuman, who credits her father, a former Marine, for her initial interest and now career as a combat pilot. "I get to fly for free. I don't have to pay for gas, and I get to blow stuff up."
As many women serving today are seeing more and more combat, some Soldiers have made it their goal to be on the battlefield.
"It has always been my goal to be a flight medic," said Staff Sgt. Christina Martinez, Co. C, 2nd Bn. 4th Avn. Regt., also known in the company as the "mission-magnet. "One of the highlights of my career was when I was part of the crew who rescued four Iraqi policemen on top of a burning building just outside Sadr City. It was dangerous because we were hovering above a burning building while pulling in the policemen. We saved their lives, and I'm really proud of that."
When a medical evacuation crew from Co. C pulled Iraqi policemen from a burning building rooftop July 18, Martinez was the flight medic on board and administered first aid to them as they were transported to a combat support hospital.
For her heroic actions, Martinez was awarded the Air Medal with Valor.
"I wouldn't have been able to rescue those policemen if it wasn't for the WAC," said Martinez. "Sometimes it is tougher for me as a woman because I feel I have to work twice as hard. The WAC really opened doors for this next generation. I'm sure we are opening doors now for the next generation of women who will serve."
(Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt is the Combat Aviation Brigade PAO, 4th Inf. Div. )