BAGHDAD - Prior to their deployment to Iraq and on a hot, summer afternoon at Fort Stewart, Ga., Texas National Guard Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat, 36th Infantry Division, donned heavy rucksacks, wore uncomfortable body armor and carried M-4 rifles for a grueling pre-mobilization road march.

"Most of the people fell out, but I finished it," said Spc. Janice Parisi, an intelligence analyst assigned to Apache Troop, 1st Sqdn., 124th Cav. Regt."Most of the people said they would have [fallen] out if a girl wasn't in it ahead of them."

Historically, cavalry units, much like infantry units, don't have many women Soldiers, but the women warriors of Apache Troop have proven themselves worthy.

"I came from a support unit and they told us we were going to the cav and I was a little unsure," admitted Spc. Heather Ketter, a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic from Wylie, Texas, also assigned to Apache Troop. "But it's been great so far!"

Ketter was raised by her brothers and that mentally prepared her for working with cavalry Soldiers and the demands of manning a guard tower at Victory Base Complex here.

"[My brothers and I] got to get in our fights and hang around with their friends," remarked a petite, blond-haired and smiling Ketter. "It helps a lot when you have to deal with the guys."

"My brother and step-brother taught me to be tough by beating me up all the time and picking on me and not letting me get away with stuff just 'cause I'm a girl," added Spc. Tiffany Frenchwood, a logistical specialist assigned to Apache Troop, as a vehicle pulls up to her checkpoint and an out-stretched arm hands her a yellow gardenia. After checking their IDs, Frenchwood smiles and waves them through the gate.

"I give people chances, but out here you can't be so nice because people will take that kindness for a weakness," said Frenchwood, from Texas City, Texas. "They [people entering VBC] think they can bring me flowers and be nice, but it's very serious out here and I got my battle buddies on VBC sleeping, so I gotta be tough...I can't let people in without a badge."

Though these Soldiers all have different military occupational specialties, they are all infantrymen first in this cavalry regiment and stand guard against insurgents trying to breech VBCs defenses.

"Out here, it's like gender doesn't matter anymore," explained a rosy-cheeked Parisi from Fort Wayne, Ind., from behind a .50 cal machine gun. "There's no air-conditioning and I have to wear body armor, but I feel like I have a purpose out here."

"We need to make sure the right people get on base," said Ketter. "[Local nationals] have jobs here and we need them, but we also have to make sure the wrong people don't get on."

Working daily for the past 10 months with the other cavalry Soldiers has been a positive experience for these Soldiers and they have earned each other's respect, added Ketter.

"I can't explain it," recollected Ketter as sweat dripped down from beneath her camouflaged Kevlar helmet. "But you can pretty much say I'm one of the guys."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16