VICENZA, Italy - In honor of Women’s History Month, U.S. Army Garrison Italy is sharing an interview that was originally published in a monthly Italian magazine called Area3 in February 2021.
Area3 wrote a feature story on servicewomen and their impressions about life in the military. Because the U.S. Army in Vicenza has a longstanding tradition of integration and partnership with the local community, the editor asked for contribution from select female Soldiers from the two U.S. Army installations in the Vicenza area.
Spc. Rachel Haan, a combat medic assigned to the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion (Airborne) located on Caserma Del Din in Vicenza, Italy shares her experience. A native of California, the 21-year-old arrived to Del Din in August 2020. Italy has been her first overseas assignment since she joined the Army in March 2020.
Q. Why did you enlist? Where did the idea of enlisting come from or was it a sudden decision?
A. I always considered the prospect of joining the United States military during my senior year of high school. I came from a low-income background and I knew financially it would be difficult for my family to support my education in addition to my two other sisters. When I learned of the plethora of benefits that enlisted soldiers could obtain through the military, including education, immediate hands-on skills, and civilian certifications, I was convinced. On top of that I was eager to go out of my comfort zone by living in foreign places. I had never lived anywhere besides my hometown in California. I never could have imagined I would be living in Italy at 18-years-old.
Q. What were your first impressions when you entered the military?
A. As soon as I entered the military, I learned quickly that discipline is key for combat readiness and effectiveness.
I didn’t know a lot of people in the military before joining, and I didn’t have a lot of family members that were in the military either, so I really had no idea of what to expect. I would say for anyone wanting to join, the best thing to do is to go in thick-skinned and be able to take criticism. When I was in initial entry training, and even during the beginning of my tenure in the 173RD, I would be easily shaken if I was scolded or reprimanded for something I did incorrectly. But over time, I learned that my leadership was trying to develop me. It’s because they’re building you up to become a future leader, to learn from your mistakes, and to build discipline.
Q. How is the female presence perceived by male colleagues?
A. My physical capabilities only pushed me to try to surpass my goals on physical fitness. I’ve always been especially thankful that my male colleagues in my unit have only ever encouraged me to push myself to perform my best. I’ve never experienced one ounce of disrespect towards females who are striving and pushing themselves to improve. Over time and with hard work, I’ve seen female Soldiers present real competition to male Soldiers at physical events.
Military leadership is chosen based on qualification, experience, performance and potential regardless of gender, and is an important standard in the Army. Even when it comes to correcting a soldier’s performance, the same rules and regulations must and do stay in place for everyone, no matter what gender.
Q. What are the challenges still to be resolved to complete the integration process?
A. I sincerely believe that the Army has been quite progressive with integrating qualifications and processes for both men and women. Over the last several years, combat arms jobs have opened up to both genders, women are now Ranger school candidates, and last year a female soldier in the National Guard graduated from Special Forces Training for the first time. The Army maintains an Equal Opportunity Program to deal with potential cases of discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, or disability. I feel like Soldiers have the ability come forward to present a case of discrimination if the event does occur.
Q. What was your most significant experience?
A. One of the most significant experiences for me was attending my first extended brigade training event, Saber Junction, which was seven weeks of field training in Germany. I was unfamiliar with how long training rotations go and what exactly goes into them. I got to work closely with European allies, and received a tremendous amount of training with medical providers outside of what I had learned in my initial training. After completion of that field exercise, I felt as if I had acquired more of an understanding of leadership qualities that are necessary to complete a mission, like quick decision making, precision, and stepping out of your comfort zone.
Q. Has being a woman proved to be an added value in many cases?
A. There are some instances in a work setting where having a female Service member present proves to be a valuable asset i.e. in a hospital setting where if you are performing a procedure on a female patient, they have the option of receiving treatment or examination from a female medical provider. I’ve witnessed situations in which female Service members are more comfortable when speaking to female representatives in family advocacy programs and legal affairs. During my time here, I have found that forming friendships between myself and other female Service member makes such a great and significant support system and companionship, especially while being stationed so far away from loved ones.
Q. So far how has your partnership been with Italian military on base?
A. I think that the U.S paratroopers have a great camaraderie with the Italian military. I remember an airborne operation in Pisa where Italians were conducting a parachute jump with 173rd paratroopers. Even though there was a language barrier, it was still a learning experience for all of us. For me, it was assisting Italian soldiers with putting on their jump-gear. I also noticed how Italian soldiers were observing us while we were conducting our pre-jump procedures. During training exercises, it’s always engaging to learn from allies whether it be tactical movements, weapons systems, or for my area of specialization, exchanging knowledge on first aid and medical field care.