WASHINGTON — Latosha Ravenell remembers being the only female standing in formations comprised entirely of men.
She did not see as many opportunities for women when she enlisted in the Army in 1994.
“I got so accustomed to being the only [female]” said Ravenell, now the command sergeant major of the Army Marketing and Engagement Brigade at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Ravenell spoke about the progress of female Soldiers with a group of female leaders and pioneers Thursday night including Lt. Gen. Donna Martin, the Army’s first Black American female inspector general.
The Charleston, South Carolina native said that early in her career, some of her mentors told her to conform instead of actively pursuing her career goals. She said she spent months listening to others before she changed her attitude, eventually becoming an accomplished recruiter and later a first sergeant.
“So for me to see this panel, it’s powerful,” she said. “But I don’t think we have seen anything yet. We still have room for improvement.”
In the last decade, the Army has seen opportunities for women become more prevalent. To date, the Army has graduated 100 females from its famed Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia, after first opening the training to women in 2015.
Martin said that female Soldiers continue to shatter stereotypes by taking leadership roles. In addition to Martin’s milestones as a Black female officer, Capt. Catherine Grizzle, another panelist, became the second woman to serve as a battery commander of A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
Grizzle achieved another milestone after getting selected as one of the first women to serve as a gunnery instructor at the Army’s Field Artillery School in Lawton. Grizzle, a Filipino American in her eighth year in the Army, has deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and also to Kuwait.
“In regards to stereotypes, these attitudes and beliefs … really threaten the integrity of the armed forces,” Grizzle said. “One oversimplified idea is that women lead with their emotions; that women are too compassionate to lead service members in combat. This stereotype presents a fundamental barrier to women who may want to join any male dominated field.”
Grizzle said stereotypes coerce women to believing that they have limits in their career progression as leaders. She added that no single leadership style has dominion over other leadership styles and that the Army has mentors that steer female Soldiers to success regardless of their gender.
Proving doubters wrong
As a young lieutenant stationed at Germany in the late 1980s, Martin had an encounter with a Soldier that could have broken her early in her military career.
Martin anticipated taking more leadership responsibilities as the company’s executive officer when a male Soldier’s words shook her. Martin had just welcomed the new lieutenant to the unit and explained to him his duties.
Then the male Soldier abruptly turned to her.
“You’re kidding if you think I’m ever going to listen to a woman in uniform,” Martin recalled the Soldier saying. The male also made a comment about her race.
“So not only did he tell me that he wasn’t going to do what I told him to do, he flat out refused,” Martin said. “So that’s the kind of adversity you could face in the military, and I don’t know that it is as pervasive as it is back then.”
Fortunately, Martin had a company commander who did not condone such behavior. Instead of letting the Soldier’s words shatter her confidence, Martin used it as motivation.
“If I had listened to that as a young lieutenant that someone wasn’t going to listen to me because of my sex and my race, I would have gotten out of the Army,” she said. “But I had leaders that pulled me up.”
“You can either let it define you, or you can prove it wrong.”
Martin applauded the Army’s current diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which includes the People Strategy and Project Inclusion, a five-year effort where Army leaders promote greater opportunities for Soldiers of all races and backgrounds.
More than three decades later, Martin led a restructuring of the Army Criminal Investigation Command and rose to become the first Black woman commandant of the Army’s Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood.
1st Lt. Rebekah Fox recalled the comments she heard while taking the Army Physical Fitness Test a few years ago.
Male Soldiers quipped that she would pass her test because she “was on the female standard.” Her male peers also asked her if she would run with the slowest group.
The panelists agreed that female Soldiers still face adversity in the military, but that such behavior has become less prevalent as female Soldiers shatter stereotypes such as ones that question their ability to engage in strenuous physical activity.
“Being able to surpass those tropes and those stereotypes … and kind of shattering that surprises people,” said Fox, an executive officer at headquarters support company 404th Aviation Support Battalion, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Carson, Colorado. “And it’s kind of fun to surprise people.”
Fox, who originally enlisted as a linguist in the Pennsylvania National Guard, recently earned her Expert Soldier Badge and received the 2021 4th Infantry Division Junior Officer of the Year award.
An enlisted Soldier became the first woman to graduate from the Army’s Sniper School in November and 1st Lt. Amber English, a member of the service’s World Class Athlete Program, earned a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in women’s skeet shooting.
Finally, the panelists addressed the recently modified standards of the Army’s Combat Fitness Test, which has shifted to having reduced standards for females and older Soldiers. Originally the Army had planned to use the same fitness standards for all Soldiers regardless of gender or age.
The Army based the change on age and gender performance scales through analysis by the RAND Corporation, performance data and Soldier feedback, Martin said.
“The adjustment in the scoring scale more accurately reflects a distribution of performance across all elements of the Army,” she said. “And it ensures a fair transition to a new fitness test of record.”
Martin said the standards remain rigorous and will allow the Army to strengthen its culture of physical fitness and improve overall unit readiness.