By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York Army National Guard March 10, 2017
LATHAM, N.Y. -- The New York Army National Guard is looking for female leaders, officers and noncommissioned officers, who are ready to become infantrymen.
In 206 the Army opened 138,000 positions to women in Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery and Special Forces branches that were previously men only. More than 300 women moved into those career fields.
The change means more positions in the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry , 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry and 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery are now open to women.
Gender integration is already underway in the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery, where women cannon crew members and leaders are already assigned.
"The Army's decision to open infantry and armor branch positions to females across the force removes the final barrier to complete gender integration," said Brig. Gen. Ray Shields, New York Army National Guard Commander, in a note to the force in December 2016.
This means more career paths in the combat arms-1,169 enlisted infantry and cavalry slots and 443 NCO and officer positions-- for a larger pool of Soldiers and leaders, Shields said.
"Having female Soldiers in combat arms increases the pool of available recruits to fill our ranks in a time when an increasingly small population of Americans qualify to serve in the military. We need them!" said New York State Command Sgt. Maj. David Piwowarski.
Gender integration means higher readiness for units, not lesser, Piwowarski said.
"One of the first steps to readiness and being ready for war is having a unit that is completely full of qualified, fit and trained Soldiers, regardless of their gender," he emphasized.
But getting female Soldiers into New York's combat units means female leaders need to be there first. The Army directed that two female leaders must be assigned to any unit before it can enlist infantry or armor female Soldiers, Shields said.
"Many women in the New York Army National Guard (NYARNG) possess the requisites to succeed in infantry and cavalry units," said Lt. Col. Diane Armbruster, an Iraq War veteran and commander of the 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion.
"Integrating them into combat positions is a positive step towards showcasing their talent and ability," said Armbruster, who has been selected to attend the Army War College's residence program. "This also gives women in NYARNG the ability to choose from all branches and to select what is right for them."
Reclassification means proving physical and mental toughness for female officers and NCOs, but recent results show that the right Soldier can and will excel, according to the Army.
Initial Army data of fully integrated combat arms training at Fort Benning, Georgia - where infantry and armor courses are held - have shown no significant difference between male and female student performance.
"The female attrition rate is lower or the same as men," noted Lt. Gen. Hugh Van Roosen, the Army Deputy Personnel Officer in a December 2016 Army News Blog. "These are women who are physically fit and absolutely prepared for this."
The Army's new Occupational Physical Assessment Test or OPAT, is part of this process.
The test features gender-neutral tasks-- the standing long jump, a dead lift, interval run and a seated power throw-- to measure strength needed for tasks like loading ammunition. Those who score in the highest physical category can join combat arms.
Armbruster stresses preparation for the challenges of the combat arms.
"First, I would say that the physical demands of infantry and cavalry are obviously harder for all genders," Armbruster said. "Ensure you understand the specific requirements for these combat assignments and that you are physically and mentally prepared to meet them."
One of the first lieutenants to volunteer for a combat arms leader assignment is 2nd Lt. Lasheri Mayes, a logistics officer from the 642nd Support Battalion, who will attend Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course later in 2017.
Mayes has developed her own plan to ensure success. This includes rigorous physical fitness training and professional development in her current assignment with Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry to learn small unit infantry tactics.
Mayes also acknowledged the support of her chain of command and fellow Soldiers.
"It is great to come back in from a ruck march in the morning and see (27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team) Command Sgt. Maj. Ciampolillo asking me how far I went and telling me to push farther next time," Mayes said.
From ruck marches to running to weightlifting, spin bikes and yoga, Mayes has devoted herself to physical training to meet or exceed the demands of the infantry school.
"I know that once I arrive at basic, people are going to be watching me, watching everything I do, and I want to be ready," Mayes said.
The invitation for leaders is open across the force, explained Piwowarski, even though some military jobs might seem more applicable to transfer into the infantry or cavalry field.
"There are some similarities between an MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) like military police and the combat arms," Piwowarski said. "But I have been on combat foot patrols with medics and on mounted patrols with logisticians, including females, who can hold their own on a road march or behind a machinegun."
Armbruster says that her advice for future infantry or cavalry leaders is the same for all of her Soldiers.
"Lead by example and adhere to the Army Values in everything you do," she said. "Be confident, not cocky. Show respect for all and seek guidance and advice from superiors as well as subordinates."
For women interested in reclassification to infantry or cavalry combat arms, it still comes down to leadership, Piwowarski explained.
"Whatever gender you are, as a career infantryman, if you reclass, your squad or platoon depends on your leadership. Leaders go the extra mile in preparation for training and missions and they put in extra time in taking care of their Soldiers. Expect to work harder than those that you lead," he said.
"I was a little hesitant when I was first asked about the opportunity to reclass infantry," Mayes said. "But when I learned that having leaders first was the key to allow new recruits in, that pretty much did it for me. I figure I'm doing this as much for them as for myself," she said.
Soldiers interested in the infantry or cavalry career fields for reclassification should first contact their chain of command and then reach out to Capt. Katie McGovern, email@example.com, (518) 272-6493 for officer accessions or Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Colling, firstname.lastname@example.org, (518) 272-6361 for NCOs.