REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In all areas of U.S. history, women have had a significant and long lasting impact.
The commemoration of women’s role in U.S. history began as Women’s History Week in Sonoma County, California, in 1978. The weeklong observance coincided with International Women’s Day. The following year, communities across the nation initiated their own Women’s History Week. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.
In 1987, the National Women’s History Project organized a campaign that ultimately led Congress to designate March as National Women’s History Month. Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance selects a theme for the month’s designation. This year, the theme is: “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.” It reflects the women’s suffrage centennial celebration originally slated during 2020, but cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As critical members of the Army team, women now serve in all career fields in the Army without barriers. Among those women is the Army’s first female four-star general, General Ann E. Dunwoody, who began her Army career with the Women’s Army Corps and retired as the commanding general of Army Materiel Command. Another woman on that list is AMC’s own Linda Villar, the acting chief of the 3rd Infantry Division Logistics Support Element who was killed in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2005 from injuries sustained during a mortar attack at her forward operating base.
These women – along with all women serving in the enlisted, officer and civilian ranks at AMC and throughout the Army – represent the thousands of women who make contributions every day in shaping the Army and the nation. As the Army observes Women’s History Month, three of the Army Materiel Command's enlisted Soldiers share the stories of their Army careers.
Opportunity for many, accomplished by few
When Master Sgt. Elaina Paxton graduated from high school in 2000, she took a chance at opportunity that she hopes other young women will also realize for themselves.
Paxton’s opportunity took her from her Miami, Florida, home, to places like Fort Richardson, Alaska; Fort Carson, Colorado; Poland, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Twenty years of opportunity brought her to AMC, where she serves as AMC’s Equal Opportunity Advisor.
“The advice that I would give to any young woman is to take the chance, for this is an experience you may only get once in this lifetime,” Paxton said. “It’s important that you know you are powerful, brave and resilient, and worthy enough to accomplish the goals you set for yourself. The only way you fail is if you don’t try. With determination, perseverance and a positive attitude, you will succeed.”
Paxton credits the Army for experiences that have allowed her to grow personally and professionally.
“I have enjoyed many things because of the Army, such as having a career that allows so many different experiences outside of my specific specialty, the opportunities to further my education, the benefits of traveling, how leadership was instilled in me immediately upon joining, meeting so many interesting people and the sense of pride that I have for serving in such an elite organization,” she said.
For the first 14 years of her career, Paxton was single, with no obligations, except a gentle tug homesickness from long separations from family. Now, she’s married and has a 3-year-old son and another child due in October. While she has benefitted from the Army’s educational assistance, employment benefits and job security, in recent years she has come to appreciate the Army’s versatility and flexibility as she juggles a Soldier’s demands with growing family needs.
“When I got married and started a family, I had to acknowledge that they deserved as much energy, effort and time as I was pouring into my career. Sometimes that means not taking on an extra project and leaving the office at the designated time for close of business,” Paxton said. “My career is extremely important to me. Having my family support on this journey is the number one reason I ensure I give them my best self first.”
Recently, Paxton mentored a young woman who is now finishing up basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. That experience brought back memories for Paxton of her early years and the woman who mentored her before she enlisted.
“I had participated in JROTC in high school and scored quite well on the ASVAB, but I had no plans to attend college. My mother encouraged me to give the Army a chance. She asked, ‘What do you have to lose?’ and said ‘If you give the Army a chance, it very well may change your life. Whether you serve a short time or your whole career, you will be able to walk away knowing you took a leap of faith, you had a new experience and you proudly served your country. That’s an opportunity afforded to many, but only accomplished by a few.’”
Finding greatness in Army service
Like many working women, Master Sgt. Erica Lark works to find a balance between the needs of her family and her career.
As a Soldier in a dual military family, there are times when Lark’s Army career has to come first.
“I love serving my country. I love wearing boots and being a Soldier,” she said. “But as one part of a dual military couple with a child, finding balance is the best practice for us. Both of our careers matter. Both of us are important.
“My husband is in Special Operations. I use to think his career was more important than mine until I realized that without Logistics, even Special Operations can’t do what they do. He always pushes me to be great and encourages me to take on hard tasks and missions to stand out. He knows women in our Army are important.”
Lark works in AMC’s G-3 (Operations). She has served in Korea, Germany and Hawaii and at Fort Bragg. She has deployed to Iraq twice.
“The Army is a good career for women because we matter,” she said. “Our attitude matters and we have a choice. Women are strong and resilient. We bring diversity and perspective that can sometimes calm even a raging ocean. We can be utilized to do the same jobs, tasks and missions as our male counterparts, and we bring balance to the force and the fight.”
The Army’s culture compliments the values that Lark and her husband are teaching their son. That culture has also allowed her to find a balance between the Army and family that works for her.
“Doing activities that my family enjoys brings motivation, fulfillment and enjoyment for me and also helps me with my Army conditioning,” she said. “For example, my son plays sport. We use physical fitness to strengthen him, and also to keep me fit and healthy for combat. We plan meals together, and vacation in between breaks at school and deployments. It is all about balance, resilience and family support”
Lark enlisted in 2001, taking advantage of the Army’s educational opportunities while also continuing her family’s legacy of service to the nation.
“I’m proud to be able to serve my country as both my grandfather, uncle, and aunt did,” she said. “And, because of the Army, I have obtained an Associate’s Degree in General Studies, Bachelor’s in Criminal Justices, Master’s in Public Health, a certification in Basic Law Enforcement Training and a certification in Logistics, and I am currently pursuing a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership.”
Lark believes women – and men – can take their Army career as far as they are willing to as long as they are dedicated to the mission.
“Embrace the culture of the Army,” she said. “You only go as far as you allow yourself to go. Greatness lies in the hands of the person who masters it and your greatness is different from everyone else’s. Do not measure your greatness by someone else’s because it can be as small as walking to the end of the block or as big as earning a Doctoral Degree, or as small as saving $100 or as big as becoming the White House Chef. We determine our own greatness. It is upon us all to search for it and the Army can help us find it.”
Living the Army slogan
The popular “Be All You Can Be” Army slogan convinced Master Sgt. Michelle Hill that joining the Army was a good career choice.
That was 35 years ago. Hill is now an example of the meaning behind the slogan.
As the Support Operations non-commissioned-officer-in-charge for AMC’s G-3, she manages the daily battle rhythm for a staff of 39 military, civilian and contractors working with Army Pre-Positioned Stocks, Logistics Readiness Centers and Field Maintenance Centers.
“The Army has provided a variety of training and learning opportunities,” Hill said. “I’ve enjoyed working with so many diverse people. We all know the most difficult part of military service is being away from family and friends. You come home after a long absence and everyone has grown up and moved on, and lots has change. But therein is the beauty: meeting new people, appreciating your loved ones, and growing and changing with the times.”
Throughout her career, Hill has personally experienced the Army’s commitment to providing opportunities to women.
“There are so many reasons the Army is a great career for women. The Army and its sister services are becoming most diverse enterprises. In the Army, women from all backgrounds and walks of life can build a rewarding career; and earn a substantial income with quality benefits and rewards. Women can choose to join the Enlisted or Officer ranks in a field they already enjoy and love or an area of interest in which they want to learn and grow. The Army can create a rewarding and fulfilling life for women and their families.”
Hill views the Army as a vehicle for women to realize their full potential as a leader.
“As female Soldiers, we can do anything we want, be anything we want to be and go anywhere we want to go. No ceilings. No barriers. The Army is a great place to figure all of that out while earning and learning,” she said.
She may sound like a walking commercial for the Army, but Hill is convinced the Army can do for other women what it did for her all those years ago.
“I did very well in school, but when I graduated I was so over school and then I got tired of just working a job. I wanted a career and some direction,” she recalled. “I saw the ‘Be All You Can Be’ commercial one day and said to my mom, ‘I’m going to join the military.’ I couldn’t believe her response. She said, ‘You should.’ And that led me on a trip to each branch recruiter before I joined the Army.”