By Staff Sgt. Javier OronaMay 12, 2014
Five years ago, 2nd Lt. Stephanie Hecker could not have guessed where life would lead her. The Army was an option, but she never imagined it would lead to her current position.
The long days and nights conducting fire missions with the cannons in her battery don't bother her one bit. Hecker says that jumping from a plane in flight with her fellow Paratroopers in the dark of the night is actually pretty fun. As a matter of fact, Hecker doesn't even acknowledge the difference between her and her coworkers until its time to ask for a woman's point of view on a topic.
In April of this year, the Army released a posture statement in regards to women entering duty positions which were previously closed to them.
"Women continue to play an important role in making our Army the best in the world. We are validating occupational standards for integrating women into all career fields. By reinforcing universal standards for each Soldier-regardless of gender-in a deliberate, measured and responsible manner we increase unit readiness, cohesion and morale while allowing for qualification based on performance, not gender, across our profession."
The Army recently made changes that opened up positions, which were previously closed to females, as part of Soldier 2020. Part of the change affords female officers the opportunity to perform battery commander and platoon leader duties with field artillery battalions.
Hecker, a platoon leader with Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, is one of the first females to be integrated into a platoon leader position within an artillery battery.
A native of Lake Zurich, Illinois, Hecker grew up in a military household. Her father, a commander in the Navy Reserve, spoke with Hecker about his experiences and motivated her to join the military. Her family frequented base events throughout her childhood and she grew accustomed to the lifestyle.
Hecker didn't want to leave the military lifestyle behind so she made the decision to join the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois. She knew she could continue her love of distance running, travel, and at the same time gather a wealth of knowledge. Her choice to go into the Army instead of the Navy was purely due to a preference in the Army tradition and the challenge of something new.
"I didn't know as much about the Army from direct exposure as I did with the Navy," said Hecker. "I wanted to do something that would get me out of my comfort zone."
Upon graduating college Hecker commissioned as a second lieutenant and began her journey on active duty. Initially she wanted to work in a career field that related to her health degree, but changed her mind after another opportunity presented itself.
The field artillery career field had just opened up to females and Hecker gladly accepted the challenge. Prior to her arrival to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Hecker admits she was hesitant about the 2020 concept and didn't know what to expect from her peers.
"I was excited to get out there and prove doubters wrong," said Hecker. "I'm just the same as any other lieutenant, I just happen to be a woman"
Hecker believes the Army should keep pushing for women in combat arms positions and that waiting to do so won't necessarily make things better. She also believes that the 2020 goal is realistic and that gender shouldn't play a role in getting a mission done.
Since joining her battery, Hecker says that she hasn't felt any pressure or had to deal with any uncomfortable situations. There have been no incidents that have taken place due to her gender and she doesn't believe any will. She said the paratroopers in her battery have been extremely supportive of her involvement and have made it clear that they don't consider her to be any different than them.
"These Paratroopers never served around females," said Cpt. James Langdeaux, commander of B Battery, 3rd Battalion 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 1st BCT. "They were standoffish at first, but then accepted her into the ranks as a member of the battery."
Hecker says being part of her battery is exciting and that after all of her training she's happy she has the opportunity to put it to use. After completing the same training as the men in her career field she says she's relieved that the Army decided to give women a chance to prove they could perform on the same level.
"Being on a gun line is so far from what I ever thought I'd do" said Hecker. "I've become so much more confident, and I'm proud of being a Gun Devil."
Although she says she enjoys hearing the cannons go off, Hecker says her favorite thing about her job is the overall experience and looking back on her accomplishments every week. She currently has completed 7 Airborne operations and looks forward to participating in more.
Langdeaux says females should be given the same opportunities as males, and that it's important for people to focus on the mission instead of gender.
"We need to change the minds of people who are serving in the Army," said Langdeaux. "Members of a team now know that [females] are very much like them--a Paratrooper and a leader."