BAGHDAD, Iraq - While some people turn to reference books or the Internet for a lesson in military history, people at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region District in Iraq have another option. They can simply have a conversation with Pat Riley.

Riley enlisted in the Women's Army Corps in June 1973. She was a member of the last all-woman basic training class at Fort McClellan, Ala.

She is still serving her country 36 years later - now as a civilian realty specialist, deployed in the Gulf Region District.

Riley said a lot has changed for women in the Army since the 1970s. She enjoys telling stories of her early days as a WAC.

"When I joined the Army, a woman had only two career choices - she could enter either the medical or clerical field," said Riley.

Not only did women have few career choices then, but Riley said they also had classes in "applying make-up" during basic training - but no classes in "soldiering" skills. She also said that sexual harassment was prevalent during the 1970s.

"One boss literally chased me around the desk and made continuous sexual innuendos," said Riley.

Today, Riley is pleased to see the Prevention of Sexual Harassment classes that are now mandatory for all Department of the Army personnel. She is also amazed to see the diverse career opportunities that are available for women in the Army.

"I think it's just wonderful to see that women have progressed so much in the military," said Riley. "Today, a woman can choose almost any career field she wants."

"Women are truck drivers and mechanics, among many other things," said Riley. "For example, when I flew to Iraq from Kuwait, the crew chief was a female. We have come a long way."

Riley said she is proud to see the great strides that have been made for women in the military. She believes that today's female service members stand on the shoulders of the brave women who served before them.

Riley is not the only one in her family with a history of serving her country. Her sister is a Navy veteran.

"I think women like my sister and me paved the way and opened the door for the women of today," said Riley. Their mother once remarked of the two women's service, "You know the world has changed when you are buying kitchen gadgets for your sons and worrying about whether your daughters are going to war."

Returning to civilian life after two years of active Army service, she joined the Army Reserve in 1984 and spent three years on active duty at Fort Belvoir. Her last four years in the active Reserve, 1988-1992, were with the 326th Area Support Group in Kansas City - the same group with garrison command responsibility for Victory Base in Iraq, where Riley serves today.

"They're going home soon," she said, "but I couldn't believe how small a world it is."

Riley, a Colorado native, spent most of her civil service career with the General Services Administration in Alaska, Nevada and Washington, joining the Corps of Engineers family in 2008. She is permanently assigned to the Alaska District, volunteering for a six-month assignment to support the Iraqi reconstruction effort.

"After the attacks on Sept. 11, I wanted to do something patriotic," said Riley. Her wish was granted when she was selected for the position with GRD.

As a realty specialist at GRD, Riley ensures that land leased by the U.S. government is returned to its original owners and processes claims for landowners to be compensated for the U.S. government's use of their property. In cooperation with the Iraqi government and in compliance with the Security Agreement, GRD is steadily turning property back over to the Iraqi people.

Although Riley no longer wears the uniform, she said her job as a civilian with GRD is very rewarding.

"GRD has an important mission in rebuilding Iraq," said Riley. "The work here is very interesting and I am pleased to be a part of it."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has completed thousands of reconstruction projects in partnership with the U.S. government and the government of Iraq. Since 2004, 5,257 projects have been completed throughout Iraq, valued at more than $8.9 billion, with 361 projects ongoing as of September 2009.

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