FORT LEE, Va. – If then-Pfc. Angelika Jansen was unclear or naïve about the challenges she faced in becoming one of the first female Army field artillery mechanics, it was made clear by a coworker not long after arriving at her first duty station.
“You know Jansen,” the male Soldier barked, “you shouldn’t be a mechanic; you should be in the kitchen making (expletive) cupcakes.”
The declarative shot heard around Jansen’s world occurred at Fort Bliss, Texas, in 2013. Earlier that year, she along with Pfc. Jessica Jones had undergone training at the Fort Lee Ordnance School’s 15-week 91P Artillery Mechanic Course. It was part of a new push to integrate the Army’s combat arms and combat arms-related occupational specialties. Jones downplayed the accomplishment while Jansen was evocatively enthusiastic.
“This is a step forward for women,” she said in an article published July 11, 2013. “I find it pretty awesome, but at the same time, I’m ready to move past the honeymoon stage and get into my work; to get the show rolling.”
Nearly a decade later, the “show is still rolling” for Jansen. She returned to Fort Lee as a drill sergeant just over a year ago, with an assignment to Charlie Company, 16th Ordnance Battalion, where she is helping to shape the next generation of Soldiers.
“This is where I need to be,” said the 32-year old staff sergeant, indicating her level of conviction about the responsibility.
Clearly confident and visibility bubbling over with pride, the Jansen of today exemplifies the Army’s progress in steadily putting the turbulent times of gender inequality in the past. The cupcake insult at Fort Bliss exemplified how males of the time took issue with her presence as a female Soldier. Jansen represented change in the form of a forcible shift in male-dominated culture cultivated over decades. She was center stage on the first stop of the integration roadshow.
Was Jansen too green to comprehend the role she played was bigger than she was?
“Yes and no,” offered the Garland, Texas, native and daughter of an Army veteran. “Yes, we pretty much set the standard, saying, ‘We can do this, too,’ but at the same time, no, because I didn’t know how much – not necessarily backlash, but – resistance we would face and how much more we had to contribute to our section at the time.”
Jansen and Jones were assigned to the same section of the same Fort Bliss unit following their Ordnance School graduation. For her part, Jansen was eager to prove her worth. She went about her duties with a sense of self-assuredness: an upward-tilted chin; an inflated chest; and the pride and passion of someone who expected serious consideration as a Soldier, not simply one of the female persuasion. That caught the attention of one retired Master Sgt. David Jensen, a field service representative contractor in her brigade.
“First of all, she listened,” said Jensen, a former field artillery mechanic among several other occupations, “and she was eager. She wanted to learn everything. She has a real serious ability to retain (information).”
Jansen, by her own account, was a no-nonsense hard-charger who wanted to be treated according to what she brought to the table. She conveyed that message and stood firm on her expectations after arriving at her unit.
“It was like, ‘I came here to do a job; let me do my job,’” she said. “‘Do not stick me in a training room. Do not stick me in a shop office. Look, you see me coming in and getting down and dirty in freaking coveralls and steel toe boots.’”
With a voracious appetite for learning, Jansen quickly became one of the top mechanics in the battalion. In her view, she was the “one others looked to for knowledge, training (and) troubleshooting … overall maintenance, really.” Her skillset had become such that she developed a sense of trust from “the commander all the way down to the squad leader and maintenance control sergeant.”
Although the accolades and respect preceded her, Jansen held on to humility. She became hungrier to improve, wanting to know more about the equipment, about other field artillery pieces, about related military occupational specialties. In those respects, Jensen was a godsend.
“I call him ‘Cousin’ Jensen (the two are not related),” said Jansen of her mentor. “He took me under his wing and was like, ‘You look like you have something to say. Well, come here; let me teach you the ropes. Let me show you. ….’ He pretty much taught me everything about the Paladin that was not taught in AIT.”
The Paladin M109 is the principal field artillery weapon for Army divisions. It is a self-propelled armament system featuring a 155mm howitzer cannon.
Jensen’s expertise allowed Jansen to flourish not only as a mechanic but as a resource. “Because I had him behind me, it kind of made people listen to me more,” she said. Her elevated and exclusive status allowed her a measure of comfort and respect as a female Soldier in a world of males.
“I kind of started believing that I was one of the boys … that I was a mechanic in the true sense of the word,” she said. “It got to the point where it was … ‘protect her at all costs. Do not let anything bad happen to her.’”
The progression to “becoming one of the boys,” however, still could not shield her from predators stubbornly subscribed to the notion women are not worthy of protection, nor being treated as equals. One individual demonstrated his objection with violence. It happened at the end of the duty day going into a three-day weekend. It was during her first year at Fort Bliss.
“It was … just after work hours,” she recalled. “Um, you know, I’m a private first class paying attention to my platoon sergeant. I was about to go out with my friends for Halloween, and I get a text message from (him). He’s like, ‘Hey, I need for you to come back and sign some paperwork.’”
Jansen thought nothing of his request. There were always troops loitering around after work. It made her ignore the fact not many cars were sitting in the parking lot. She also ignored how he seemed more interested in chatting than getting her to sign documents.
Further, when she went into the female latrine to retrieve her coveralls for laundering – something she intended to do after he asked her to return – he held the door open and continued to chat.
With coveralls finally in hand, Jansen thanked him and preceded to the door. The platoon sergeant pulled her back in, she recalled, and started “forcing himself” upon her. She resisted, but her superior was relentless and carried out the sexual assault. The experience, she remembered, was so brazen it seemed surreal.
In the aftermath, Jansen said she was “dazed and in shock” but her thoughts immediately turned to what he might do next and what she could do to protect herself.
“The first thing in my brain was, ‘I need my battle buddy and I need my squad leader,’ who happened to be on CQ that night,” she said. “I said, ‘I need to talk to both of you about something that happened. It’s important.’”
Jansen disclosed what happened to her fellow Soldiers. They inquired whether she wanted to report the alleged offense.
“‘Not really at this time,’” she said, “because of the fact there were no witnesses; who was going to believe me?”
From that point on, Jansen’s battle buddies ensured she was never alone with the platoon sergeant. As for reporting the matter, Jansen remained reluctant knowing it would require retelling and essentially reliving the trauma over and again.
The young Soldier relented four months later when the same noncommissioned officer was accused of sexually assaulting another Soldier, this time during a barracks room inspection. Learning about that event, Jansen exclaimed, “‘Alright, this stops now.’
“I was not really frustrated but straight up angry,” she emphasized.
Angry enough to put aside her own trauma for greater goods. Not only did she report the incident to authorities leading to the Soldier’s punishment, but Jansen became her own crusade, turning victimhood to advocacy for the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
“It was a test of personal courage – a test of integrity and a test of putting my reputation on the line,” she said. “It wasn’t about me or being (a pioneering) mechanic anymore. This was spreading awareness of sexual harassment and assault. … It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about ‘What can I do to help others?’”
A deeply religious Christian, Jansen said her efforts were the result of much inquiry and prayer following her assault. It pushed her to speak at SHARP training sessions at every battalion within two brigades, promoting a simple message.
“If you have been a victim … come forward. There will not be any backlash. Yes, it will be painful to retell the truth, but the truth is going to set you free.”
Because of her testimony, other Soldiers came forward leading to 63 additional cases, according to Jansen. Retired Master Sgt. Jensen observed from his perch as a contractor, witnessing Jansen fight through her struggles to battle for others.
“It takes a hell of a lot of moral character to do what she did,” he said.
Jansen insists her moves were not her own, but those ordered by a much greater force.
“It was the Holy Spirit saying, ‘You have a job; you have a purpose; you’re not done; this is only a phase; this is only a situation; this is a true test of where your faith lies,’” she said. “He told me ‘Go and see what happens.’”
Jansen is still in “go” mode while simultaneously still healing. She is up against 14-hour days of pushing troops as a drill sergeant, taking on roles as trainer, disciplinarian, driver, counselor, mentor and in-house parent.
Furthermore, Janzen is the mother of a special needs child currently not in her custody. Add that to Jansen’s past trauma and life can sometimes be overwhelming, she said.
“Every day it’s like, ‘Breathe, you’re OK,’” said Jansen. “‘This does not define you. This does not hinder you. This is only a step in your path.’”
A journey strengthened by her responsibility of molding some of the Army’s newest Soldiers. She uses her experience and experiences – including the sexual assault – to support them through this phase of their indoctrination.
“I have the ability to train Soldiers, and I have the ability to do it effectively,” she said. “That is my ultimate goal and passion – to train my replacements.”
That is a strong statement coming from a parent, groundbreaking Soldier, drill sergeant, sexual assault advocate and not least, a God-fearing Christian who is neither unclear or naïve about her mission and purpose moving forward.