CAMP BLANDING, Fla. (Army News Service, March 28, 2007) - Two Florida National Guard women are making history as the first females to become Avenger crewmembers, a Military Occupational Specialty restricted to males until last October.

Spc. Sorimar Perez, 32, and Spc. Amanda Landers, 25, are assigned to C Battery, 1st Battalion, 265th Air Defense Artillery, in Daytona Beach. Both are training at the Regional Training Institute here and are expected to graduate April 2.

"I'm excited and feel priviledged to have this opportunity. So far, it's been very enjoyable. I wouldn't change it if I could," said Landers.

Originally from West Virginia and now residing in Port Orange, Landers joined the Ohio National Guard in 2000 while attending college there. In 2004, she deployed to Iraq as a truck driver, her first MOS.

"I transferred to Daytona in December. There were no positions available for me in my MOS so I had to find a new one. Then this opportunity came up and I thought it would be a good experience," said Landers.

The Avenger system is a lightweight, highly mobile and transportable surface-to-air missile/gun weapons system. It provides mobile, short-range air-defense protection against air and land attacks.

To graduate in their new specialty, Landers and Perez must complete two phases of training. "Phase one teaches the basic components that go along with the Avenger system," said Master Sgt. Edwin Wilson, RTI branch manager.

During phase one, Landers and Perez learned to operate global positioning-devices, radio systems and other small devices used peripherally with the Avenger. They also became familiar with the Stinger missile and the skill-level tasks they need to know according to their rank.

Landers and Perez are now in phase two, learning the operation, maintenance and configurations of the big components of the Avenger, as well as seeing how the things they learned during phase one fit into this final phase.

"Overall, they have a 96.7 grade-point average. They are doing everything that the males are doing and are pulling their own weight," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Porter, 14S course manager at the RTI.

The change in specialty has not been hard for Perez. "I've been a mechanic for seven years, so I'm used to working with men," she said. Her daring disposition and not being scared of doing 'a man's job' are qualities that she thinks helped her get selected for the Avenger training.

Perez moved from Puerto Rico to Orlando seven years ago. "I've always had an inclination for the military and finally made up my mind to join the Florida National Guard at 28, in 2004." She said a fellow Soldier convinced her that she could handle the demands of becoming an Avenger crewmember.

Both women intend to make a career in the Florida National Guard.

"I like the Florida National Guard," said Perez. "I want to make my 20 years and give a better life to my son and my mom." In addition to her duties as a Guard member, Perez works full-time as a manager at an auto parts store.

Landers has been in the Guard for more than six years and just reenlisted for six more. "I work (full-time) in accounting and I enjoy that, but I like the military because I get to do more hands-on stuff. My goal is to stay in the Guard until retirement."

Being the first females to graduate from this course opens many possibilities for Landers and Perez. Deployment as Avenger crewmembers is one.

And according to Wilson, there is another. "They could potentially become the first female Avenger instructors at the RTI and the Army if they wanted to."

(Staff Sgt. C.G. Maldonado writes for the Florida National Guard Public Affairs.)