FORT STEWART, Ga. – Staff Sgt. Jennifer M. Woolums, assigned to the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, was the first female infantry drill sergeant and first non-infantry military occupational specialty, or MOS, to be inducted as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment, or DMOR, for the 58th Infantry Regiment in April 2021 at Fort Benning. Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, marks the 48th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day and a time to recognize the pioneering accomplishments of women in uniform like Woolums who serve the nation.
Congress passed the Women’s Equality Day bill into law on Aug. 16, 1973, commemorating the 19th Amendment’s ratification on Aug. 26, 1920, which gave women the right to vote. The then serving U.S. president, Richard M. Nixon, stated in an ensuing proclamation that “[t]he struggle for women's suffrage, however, was only the first step toward full and equal participation of women in our Nation's life.”
In 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opened all combat arms jobs to women. Then in 2016, the traditionally all-male infantry basic training unit known as infantry one station unit training, or OSUT, on Sand Hill at Fort Benning, Georgia, received female drill sergeants from non-infantry specialties. Female trainees arrived in 2017 to form gender integrated basic training companies at infantry OSUT with drill sergeants that were trained and ready.
Woolums arrived to infantry OSUT, formally known as the 198th Infantry Brigade, as a sergeant with promotable status in the spring of 2018 with orders to be an infantry drill sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 58th Infantry Regiment, “Patriot Battalion,” 198th IN BDE, a gender-integrated battalion. She was a 91D MOS, or tactical generation specialist, by trade and a native of Waukegan, Illinois. Because Woolums would soon be training infantry trainees, she had a lot to learn and a short amount of time to do it.
“It was challenging. I had to learn a lot of new things and I had to learn them quickly,” said Woolums. “I stepped up to the challenge and had phenomenal leadership to encourage me to get the most out of my experience. At the beginning I felt out of place, but it didn't take long to become part of the team.”
Woolums’ leadership quickly took notice of her. “Staff Sgt. Jennifer Woolums was the epitome of a professional noncommissioned officer. Regardless of the task, her willingness to execute at the highest levels of excellence continuously set her above her peers regardless of gender,” said Master Sgt. Justin M. Kline, Woolums’ company first sergeant for most of the time she served at infantry OSUT in the 2nd Bn., 58th IR, 198th IN BDE.
When asked about what it meant to be the first female DMOR inductee, Woolums responded, “It doesn't mean anything to me to be the first female. Being inducted as a Distinguished Member of the Regiment was an honor for me as a Soldier and as a drill sergeant. To me it means I made a big enough difference in these Soldiers’ lives and in the organization.”
Only at the rank of sergeant, Woolums stepped up to become a senior drill sergeant of a basic trainee platoon – a position normally reserved for more senior noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, such as a sergeant first class or senior staff sergeant. “Staff Sgt. Woolums set the bar high while performing her duties as a drill sergeant and set herself above most in our battalion,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick L. Rivers Jr., senior enlisted advisor for the 2nd Bn., 58th IR, 198th IN BDE. “Because of her professionalism and drive for excellence, she performed the duties of a senior drill sergeant at the junior NCO rank of sergeant – a great accomplishment and an asset to any organization.”
The advice Woolums would give to would-be female drill sergeants is “you are not a female drill sergeant; you are a drill sergeant.” She said the infantry male drill sergeants “challenged me daily to be better, to know more, to not fall victim to the I’m a non-infantry female sergeant mentality. They treated me as an equal and proved to me that a drill, is a drill, is a drill.”
Woolums currently serves as the automotive section sergeant in the Delta Forward Support Troop, “Maddawg Troop,” 6th Sqn., 8th Cav. Regt., 2nd ABCT. She is happily married to a fellow service member in the same MOS, and they have a five-year-old son together.