March is Women's History Month -- a time to celebrate and commemorate the role and contributions of women in American history. The U.S. military is filled with notable women, but only one can say she made history as the first female commander of Eisenhower Army Medical Center. While it is a distinction she doesn't take lightly, Col. Carlene Blanding is more apt to talk about the success of others than she is to talk about her place in Fort Gordon's history.
"I'm a leader who happens to be a woman," she said.
Ever since she was a child, Blanding knew she wanted to be in medical field.
"I actually wanted to be a physician but I joined Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and fell in love with the Army, and the rest is history," she added.
Looking back on her 27 years of military service, all of which have been as a Medical Service Corps officer, Blanding has no regrets about her decision in pursuing the Medical Service Corps path. That decision led her to take on a wide variety of assignments that helped shape her path for success. She deems this to be "the best career" she "could ever imagine."
Yet, occasionally she wonders if her career might have ended up taking a different route had she been presented with the opportunities today. Up until recent years, females were ineligible to serve in predominantly male-oriented, combat positions such as infantry, armor, artillery, Special Forces, and Ranger.
"If these opportunities were available when I was a junior officer, I believe they could have altered my career path," Blanding said.
However, Blanding isn't the least bit concerned over potential missed opportunities. Instead, she delights in watching fellow female service members excel and she listens in awe as they share personal stories of trials and triumphs.
"These opportunities that are now available to women speak to the strides that women have made in the two decades that I've been in the military," Blanding said. "Now there are no barriers, and I think that's the beauty of what we do in the military. We are game-changers when it comes to talent and skills, where gender or race do not impact one's success."
Further equalizing the Army, all Soldiers will be required to pass the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) starting in October. Unlike the current Army Physical Fitness Test, standards for the ACFT are based on a Soldier's military occupational specialty; not their gender (or age) -- another move Blanding believes is keeping the Army heading in the right direction.
"I think over time, we had to change because we realized … we're not tapping into 50 percent of the population's strength, knowledge, and wisdom, so we're missing out," she said. "There's no ceiling. Now Soldiers can choose their path, and the requirements are the same."
While the military has undoubtedly come a long way in women's rights, Blanding believes there is still progress to be made -- making it all the more important to celebrate and commemorate observances like Women's History Month. Forgetting or failing to observe such progress can result in complacency.
"When we become complacent, we lose our edge to continue focusing on change -- changes that not just impact women, but changes that impact the very fabric of our Nation," Blanding said.
Looking to the future of the Army and the legacy she would like to leave, Blanding said, "I hope that people remember me not as the first female commander of Eisenhower Army Medical Center, but as a leader who genuinely cared and helped set the conditions for irreversible success."
As for her female counterparts, Blanding has four key bits of advice she wants to impart: "Don't limit yourself, be confident, perform to the best of your ability, and get mentors."
"Our country's success sits on our shoulders," she concluded. "The only limiting factor is us."