By Spc. Autumn A. HopeJuly 7, 2009
"Cause she walk like a boss. Talk like a boss. Moves like a boss. Kinda woman that can do for herself."
These lyrics from Ne-Yo's song "Miss Independent" portray her perfectly. Standing at almost six-feet tall with broad shoulders, hair pulled tightly back into a bun, eyes veering intensely over her glasses, she demands respect as she hoists the 84-pound monster-of-a-gun up through the turret of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle in preparation for the day's mission.
She is humble about her strength and intimidating ability, as it is not every day in Iraq one might see a female lugging around a .50 caliber machine gun, let alone harnessed in as the gunner.
"I like being up there. I feel like I am contributing more than if I were in the back," said 22-year-old Army Reserve Soldier, Sgt. Danielle Torres.
Torres, a civil affairs specialist working in the operations and intelligence section with the 304th Civil Affairs Brigade headquarters company from Philadelphia, is the only female gunner in their convoy security team.
"I chose her because she is strong, capable and does not flinch under pressure," said Maj. Betty S. Cummiskey, 304th CA BDE HHC commander.
The 304th CA Bde. was activated in April 2008 and deployed to Iraq in support of the XVIII Airborne Corps. The 304th CA Bde. headquarters company is responsible for supporting all of the brigades efforts while in theater, including providing tactical movements for brigade assets and the brigade commander.
The convoy security team is a collaboration of Soldiers from the HHC platoons. Over the course of their deployment the team has made a variety of missions all throughout the country, as far north as Tirkrit; some 90 miles north of Baghdad and 110 miles south to Diwaniya.
Not just any Soldier can carry the responsibility of being a gunner for a tactical vehicle, said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel MacDonald, Torres' non-commissioned officer in charge.
First, one must qualify on the M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun; then be able to pickup it up, carry it, hoist and mount it onto the turret.
"I have had to kick guys off because they couldn't hack it," MacDonald said.
The second and most important element of being a gunner is not only possessing the knowledge of what the varying degrees of escalation-of-force are, but being able to react quickly to any situation.
Sgt. Orlando R. Cheatham, assistant operations sergeant and lead convoy security team driver, said he would take a female gunner over a male any day. He said on a previous deployment his unit was ambushed and he had a female gunner who stayed calm and focused.
"Torres has good judgment, and if she doesn't know something she's not afraid to ask," Cheatham said.
There is not much Torres is afraid of. She said she has had an "I can do it too" attitude for as long as she can remember. In the fifth grade, she joined her school's football team, where she played defensive end. It was the first time in more than 15 years a girl had signed up for the team and her coach was accepting, Torres said.
"I held my own and I think I earned the respect of the other guys," Torres said.
Like the challenge of playing football with her male counterparts, the military culture, also a predominately male world, appealed to Torres. In 2004 during her senior year of high school she decided to join the Army Reserve as a Civil Affairs specialist.
"I didn't go to college right away because I was undecided on what I was going to do," Torres said. "Joining the Army [Reserve] gave me an option on both and enabled me to feel like I was doing something more with my life."
Eventually Torres would like to join a civilian police department. But in the mean time, back in her native town of Galloway, N.J., she is a corrections officer at a county jail. Two years ago she took the civil service exam and sent it out to different departments.
"Corrections was the first to go through and I was very excited about it," Torres said.
Without question, the experience she has gained from working at the jail has given her valuable skills she has been able to employ in her military career.
"As reserve Civil Affairs Soldiers and officers, we would not be able to do our job if it were not for the wealth of knowledge they offer from their civilian education and careers," MacDonald said. "It is what makes us different from the active duty."
MacDonald is a captain in the Philadelphia Police Department and said much of his military and civilian training goes hand in hand. He said he has been able to share his knowledge and expertise from his past deployments and from the police department with his Soldiers.
"I taught Torres everything I know," MacDonald joked.
Torres recognizes she is the minority in her civilian and military career fields, but it does not stop her from following her dreams. In fact, it drives and motivates her to work that much harder to prove she is capable of doing anything she sets her mind to. Being almost six-feet tall is an advantage. But Torres said even if she were only five feet she would find a way to still be the gunner.
"If you can do the job; if you are physically and mentally strong then it doesn't matter what your sex is," MacDonald said.
MacDonald admits he was a bit hesitant when he learned Torres would be joining his convoy security team, but he quickly learned she was willing to learn and competent.
"She's a squared away Soldier and I push her real hard to be the best she can be," he said.
On March 1, Torres achieved another personal goal and was promoted from specialist to sergeant during a company ceremony.