By Marie BerbereaJune 26, 2014
FORT SILL, Okla. -- As the secretary of the Army announced 33,000 positions that were previously closed to women are now open, a group of leaders met with Soldiers at Fort Sill to provide support and offer advice on integrating women into those roles.
A panel consisting of women who have created their own paths in their respective careers as a field artillery major, retired field artillery command sergeant major, field artillery captain and an air defense artillery first sergeant shared their guidance June 18 in Kerwin Auditorium inside Snow Hall.
"There's a huge influx of females in the field artillery now so it's new for both females and males and the senior leadership and yourself. It's just about bringing the things that women have to offer into the military and making the culture of the Army better, making the entire profession more professional," said Capt. Katie Fichtner, Field Artillery Captains Career Course.
Fichtner was part of a similar program called Sisters in Arms at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Wash., and she decided the Fires Center of Excellence was a great place to bring this type of open forum.
"If you have any questions about anything, this is the time. Don't wait until you're out there in your first unit and you're sitting there going I'm the only female here. Who do I ask these questions to?" said 1st Sgt. Leigh Ann Conic, Ordnance Training Detachment.
The women in the panel were the "firsts" many times in their ranks and still are as retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jeanette Clement remains the highest ranking enlisted female in field artillery.
"Before, women could not hold any kind of combat position, but as of 9/11 warfare changed it. It wasn't here's a straight line -- bad guys on one side, good guys on the other. So some of the jobs opened up."
As she addressed an audience of 13-series Soldiers Clement said, "I love field artillery. I love to see women put in it. More importantly, I love the fact that you volunteered to do it."
The panel said while they are proud of what they have accomplished as the "first" in their units, the experiences came with their own period of adjustment.
"I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. I swear my parents never told me there were male jobs or female jobs. So going into that first unit as a lieutenant when they're saying well we've never worked with females, OK big deal. I'm sure every one of those guys has had a girlfriend, has had a mother, has had a sister, has had a neighbor who's a female so they know how to deal with females," said Maj. Marny Skindrud, 214th Fires Brigade executive officer.
Skindrud started her career as a field artillery officer, but was denied a position because of her gender. She was originally assigned to 214th FiB in the spring of 2000 until leaders realized she was a woman.
"At command and staff my friend saw my name on the board. He said, 'Oh, I know her,' and the whole table looked at him and said, 'her?'" said Skindrud.
"That night I got a phone call saying well we think you're going to learn more in basic training, you're going to be a basic training (executive officer). I wasn't sure what to do. I called my dad and said 'Do I fight this?' And he talked to some military buddies and they said just go prove yourself and then see where you can go from there."
The panel consistently said the best advice they could give the young women was to know their job and do it well.
"That's the biggest thing I've had to face is people saying I don't know what I'm doing because I'm a female. I know my job. I just have to show them I know my job," said Conic.
Other issues that came up were spouses who were unsure what a female would bring into the mix and letting their fear-based conclusions create uncertainty in the unit. Fichtner said the only way to expel that fear was to show Soldiers, over time, there was no basis for their reactions.
She also said it is very important for women to avoid the "queen bee mentality" where only one woman is allowed to be successful. She shared a quote from Madeline Albright: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."
"We can help each other out. Don't forget to help the woman to your left and right as well."
Another pitfall they said to avoid is using their gender to take advantage of a situation.
"They used to say, you go to Korea you're a queen for a year," said Conic.
She said some women would manipulate situations and the male Soldiers would allow it. She said the best way to fend off that stereotype is for the Soldiers to collectively act like professionals.
"You all know the standard. So don't try and use it as an excuse."
Clement said male, female "It's all about respect. Respecting yourself, and respecting others."
Skindrud said early on in her career she had to fight the urge to push aside her personality for a more forceful one in order to get Soldiers to listen to her. In the end, she said everyone has a different leadership style and she decided to use the one that was more natural for her.
"I wasn't trying to prove anything, but I was being myself. I was being a hard worker. They realized I was just like them. I'm working hard, I'm trying to achieve and do my best in the military just like the male Soldier beside me. That goes a long way in making everyone equal," said Skindrud.
The Soldiers asked about the female PT scale as being a downfall in the battle of equality in the ranks, but the panel agreed that as long as they meet or exceed the standard they're doing their job as a Soldier.
"There's the same standard for everybody for qualification. There's the same standard for what you have to do in your MOS to graduate. There's nothing different. So stop allowing them to use that crutch, as oh, it's the female standard or the male standard. It's the Army standard and they put it there in black and white for a reason," said Conic.
While officially including women in these roles is new, the leaders said the "all male" mentality is changing.
As the only male in attendance, Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Castignanie, A Battery, 1st Battalion, 78th Field Artillery, said "I think it's really inspiring to be able to show a fresh crop of female Soldiers that there is strong leadership."
He added it's not a male dominated profession, "it's a leaders profession."
Clement said there are growing pains on both sides as male Soldiers are learning the capabilities of the female Soldiers.
"You're not going to take two or three 5-foot-2-inch females and load a howitzer with a 155 round. It's going to take a few of you, but at the same flip of that you're not going to take two or three 5-foot-2-inch guys and load a 155 into a howitzer either. You've got to learn to know yourself. And if you have Soldiers under you, you better know them," said Clement. "It's still a male heavy Army, but ladies you're coming up at the right time."
Fichtner said there will be future open forums to discuss integrating women into combat roles, and men and women are invited.