FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 5, 2013) -- The first five female Soldiers to become Bradley Fighting Vehicle maintainers graduated Friday on Harmony Church.

The Army's first female 91Ms are: Pvt. Christy Bailey of Horatio, Ark.; Pvt. Taylor Robbins of Myrtle, Miss.; Pvt. Melissa Allen of Waynesburg, Pa.; Pvt. Christian Haws of New York; and Pvt. Amanda Layman of Niles, Mich.

The graduates from E Company, 3rd Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, 194th Armored Brigade, trained alongside their 33 male counterparts during the 14-week, three-day course to transform them into mechanics for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The instruction included general automotive knowledge, learning to read schematics, understanding suspension system, electronics, diagnostics and troubleshooting the engine and turret systems.

"We worked very hard to ensure that our female Soldiers were treated exactly like our male Soldiers," said Company Commander Capt. Travis Iommi.

Although female Soldiers are nothing new to Fort Benning, the 91M Bradley maintainer course is one of six combat support jobs now available to women after the Army expanded access to some combat positions formerly reserved for men. Of the six military occupational specialties, two are taught here; the other is 91A or M1 Abrams tank system maintainer.

Bailey, 20, said she joined the Army to find a greater purpose in life. Growing up playing sports and competing with her two brothers, she said she was immediately drawn to the physical challenges of her new role.

"I joined the Army to do something better with my life and I didn't want to be a desk clerk -- I wanted to be as close to the action as possible," Bailey said. "This seemed as close as I could to doing something for the Army and for myself at the same time. I like to be hands-on and it's pretty hands on."

Following in the footsteps of her father, who served as a tanker, Robbins, 20, decided to join the Army after high school. She admitted she felt the pressure of becoming one of the first females in her class, but was determined to do her very best.

She said she hopes to inspire other women to take on male-dominated roles in the Army.

"I wanted to prove that even female Soldiers could do this and be leaders and cut the way for future Soldiers and females here," Robbins said. "I (assumed) they would be harder or softer on us females, but in all we got treated the same and they expected the same as males."

Iommi said the integration process presented little challenge to the E Company cadre; barracks renovations and regulations were thoroughly established to promote the safety and security of male and female Soldiers. The Soldiers said they relied on teamwork and commitment to operate just as any other class would.

"In the Army, it's a big teamwork effort," Bailey said. "You have to push your individual needs aside to get the job done."

Iommi said hard work and camaraderie are the most vital assets for any Soldier to succeed in the Army.

"It doesn't matter if you're male or female," Iommi said. " If you get after it, (do) PT and volunteer to put in a bunch of hard work and work as a team, I don't care what your gender is, people are going to say 'that's a Soldier that I would want in my motor pool.'"