FORT HOOD, Texas - Strong, proficient, dexterous, committed, ambitious and inspirational – words that describe the more than 200,000 women who voluntarily serve in the United States Army today.
“I think the most liberating feeling is to be a role model for other women,” Staff Sgt. Samantha Escamilla said. “I tell them to embrace the challenge.”
Escamilla, chief of operations for 502nd Dental Company Area Support, 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, is one of more than 5,000 females currently stationed at Fort Hood.
Although women have voluntarily served since the Revolutionary War, fighting and dying alongside males, they were only formally recognized as full-fledged members of the military when President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act on June 12, 1948.
Women join the military for a variety of reasons. Some feel the calling to be part of something bigger than themselves, and joined the military to fulfill that need. Some were not feeling fulfilled in their 9-to-5 jobs, while others just knew exactly where they wanted to be.
“I was not interested in attending college right after high school. I wanted a career where I could be financially independent while providing purpose and direction in my life,” Chief Warrant Officer 4 Lola Lewis explained. “That was the beginning of my military career and I never looked back.”
Lewis originally enlisted in the Army 23 years ago as an OH-58 Kiowa crew chief, but eventually realized she wanted to make a big difference in Army aviation, so she made the transition from enlisted to a warrant officer. As an aviation maintenance technician, Lewis has been able to work in all aspects of Army aviation. She now serves as an observer coach and trainer with 2nd Battalion, 291st Aviation Regiment, 166th Aviation Bde., First Army – Division West, validating mobilization aviation training for Army Reserve and National Guard aviation units at North Fort Hood.
“I am proficient at my job because I take the job serious and demand perfection,” Lewis, a native of West Covina, California, added.
Ensuring they are proficient and taken seriously is a common denominator among female Soldiers. At the same time, they realize that when it comes down to it, sometimes the only person they need to prove anything to is the person staring back at them in the mirror.
“Being a woman in any male-driven field can seem intimidating at times, no matter what your job duties are, so it is important to remember to stick up for yourself when needed. Being assertive is never a bad thing,” Spc. Melani Hastings, 36th Engineer Bde. said. “You do not have to prove anything to anyone except for yourself.”
Born at Fort Hood, Hastings grew up an Army brat before deciding to join the Army herself. For the young Soldier, donning the uniform meant being part of a team that looks out for each other.
As a geospatial engineer, Hastings said she uses her skills to paint a picture of the battlefield for the commander and units to make the best decisions.
“Think of it as if intel and graphic design had a baby,” she added.
Gone are the days of women only serving as nurses tending to the wounded. Women in the military today can serve as doctors, lawyers and engineers. They can fly in the air as aviators and can now fight on the ground as infantry. In 2016, all combat roles were officially opened up to women. There are currently more than 1,000 women in combat roles, including 450 at Fort Hood.
Sgt. Natalie Ramirez, a female infantryman who is currently serving as part of the 1st Cav. Div. Horse Cav. Detachment, said she was proud to be one of the first women to come into infantry when it was opened to females.
“We were the first females to come to Fort Hood,” Ramirez explained about arriving at her first assignment after Advanced Individual Training. “It’s a very physically demanding job, of course, but you learn a lot, especially about being in the Army and what it means to take care of a team.”
Being physically fit is important to female Soldiers, who have to compete both intellectually and physically against their male peers to advance in their careers.
“I feel like Wonder Woman in ACUs (Army Combat Uniform),” Sgt. 1st Class Jewel Lott said about being a strong female in the Army.
Women in the Army are working harder than ever before to maintain their physical readiness. With the transition to the new gener-neutral Army Combat Fitness Test, female troopers are expected to be stronger than ever.
“I have always embraced the challenge,” Escamilla said about being physically compared to her male counterparts, never giving anyone a reason to doubt she is just as strong and capable. “I always made sure I scaled myself on the male standard. In the end, leadership is leadership, whether you’re a male or a female.”
Escamilla is Airborne qualified, earned her Expert Field Medical Badge, was named Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, is a Master Fitness Trainer and is a member of the coveted Sgt. Audie Murphy Club.
She now has Ranger School in her sights, while embracing the positive example she leaves for young Soldiers and her own children, who have learned to never give up on a dream.
“Stand up for what you believe and if you believe you deserve a position, tell them why,” she said. “If it’s where you want to be, don’t let anybody get in your way.”
But Escamilla said there’s something Army women should remember: attitude is everything.
“A positive attitude,” she stressed, “keeps you going.”